Monday, December 12, 2011

Verse-by-verse: James 1

Up to this point in my blog, I've based (at least loosely) each post around a small passage from the scriptures that I feel provides pivotal insight into key dimensions of my dichotomous psyche. Sometimes, however, a small passage is not enough. In my personal scripture study I sometimes come across larger chunks including entire chapters that build thematically around messages I really need at the time. So, today will be my first attempt to build a post around an extended passage, in this case the first chapter of the epistle of James. Hopefully this “verse-by-verse” approach will become a recurring feature here on the blog, because I already can think of a few other very profound chapters I’d love to showcase in the future. J It seems that occasionally approaching posts this way will give me the chance to let my true scripture-nerd side out a bit. And if this just isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Most posts will be more like my previous ones. But just humor me for a bit as I invite you to explore James 1 with me…

Background: James was the younger brother of Jesus Christ, the next-eldest in the family after Jesus (see Matt. 13:55). He was trained to be a Rabbi and was a devout scholar of the Torah. It seems that he actually did NOT accept the teachings of his important older brother during Christ’s mortal life. Nonetheless, Christ knew that he was a chosen vessel and appeared to him after his resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15:7) to help him realize the truth. From thereon out, he becomes one of the most important Church leaders in Jerusalem, serving there as the Bishop of the congregation there until his eventual call to the 12 (see Galatians 1:19). He served faithfully as an apostle until his martyrdom at the hands of the Sanhedrin in 61 AD. His life was an example of faithfulness through the humility to accept that you were wrong, and then spend your whole life working for what’s right from thereon out. (For fantastic insight on James, I highly recommend Dr. Richard Draper’s The Ministry of the Apostles [2010, BYU Academic Press], pages 46-47)

Chapter One:

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
3 Knowing this, that they trying of your faith worketh patience.
4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

Commentary: How to be a faithful gay Mormon—Step One: Experience temptations, and learn to be happy BECAUSE of them, not just DESPITE them. Note that “fall into” from verse two is from the Greek peripipto, meaning to be encompassed by, not to give into. Thus we aren’t being counseled here to be happy when we sin, but merely when we are surrounded by temptation (implicitly WITHOUT giving in). Once we realize that God has a purpose and knows what He’s doing, we can look at trials joyfully, knowing that they lead us to become like Him. And that’s a pretty happy ending!
Step Two: Learn patience. This is really the name of the game, isn’t it? My fellow faithful gay Mormons and I are continually waiting for the day that blessing of a happy marriage to a daughter of God will be fulfilled. But as verse four counsels, we also have to be patient while waiting to develop patience! We have to stand back and let our patience grow.
The mind blowing part: Verse three brilliantly connects these two ideas. Being gay Mormons, we know we have to experience unique temptations, and we know we need patience. James is telling us here that the first one HELPS the second! God knows we must have patience, so He sent us trials in order to work that patience in us, and THAT is why the trials should make us happy! Once the patience grows we can eventually be made perfect. I like that it says we will be made to be “wanting nothing.” I believe that the reason we won’t want anything, is because those wants have been fulfilled once we’ve qualified ourselves through patience. I’ll no longer be wanting a wife, because I’ll have found her because my patience was made perfect enough to be deserving of and ready to receive the blessing.
Moving on…

5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

Step Three: Learn to pray—no, not just “say prayers”—PRAY! Prayer was always meant to be a conversation WITH, not a dictation TO the Creator. You’ll never begin to understand your place in the Plan and the promises still extended to you unless you discuss your feelings with your Father in Heaven. He is willing and ready to talk about your attractions to the same gender with you! I dare you to give it a try.
This clump of verses contains a Mormon favorite, though considered all together they also can be discouraging and problematic at a first glance. How do we make our prayers “unwavering” as the verses ask? Does that mean we need to have a perfect knowledge of God to be able to get anything from Him? Well that doesn’t make any sense, because I can’t think of any scriptural instances of those who had perfect knowledge of Him who didn’t have to ask in order to obtain it in the first place! Then what does it mean to not waver when we ask? It means we have to actually desire the wisdom we are petitioning for. If we pray to God for an answer to a question, but deep down we really don’t want to know the answer, or won’t accept certain answers we wouldn’t like, then we can’t expect the Lord to give us that wisdom yet. We have become “double minded” men and women who can’t make up their mind what they want, and therefore are like waves of the sea, very easily moved about by other forces in many directions. We are thus to unstable to receive from God any measures of His Word, for they require a sure foundation.
So, at least as I read it, to not waver when we ask we have to be sure of our desire to learn from God. We don’t have to have a perfect knowledge of Him or a deep understanding of every aspect of the gospel. Indeed, if we did there would be little reason for us to be petitioning for wisdom in the first place! But, what do we do when we know our desires our divided and we’ve become “double minded,” wanting wisdom from God but telling Him also we don’t want an answer that tells us we can’t pursue that man romantically? I suggest first desiring correct desires! J You may recognize that your mixed desires may be hindering your capacity for inspiration, but recognizing that, you can at least plant and develop a desire for correct desires first! As my first post mentioned, “God hath… given us the spirit of… love, and of power, and of a SOUND MIND” (2 Timothy 1:7). In other words, if a “double mind” is preventing you from receiving inspiration, God is more than willing to first give you a SOUND one so that you can align your will with His and thus truly communicate (see the BD definition of prayer).
(Notice that this passage doesn’t talk about petitioning the Lord for physical blessings, but rather just about WISDOM—that is, an increased understanding. We shouldn’t assume that if we ask with unwavering faith for a sports car that He’ll give it to us.)

9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:
10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.
11 For the sun is no sooner risen with burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.

These are beautiful and poetic verses, but I’m a little less-than-satisfied with the clarity of the King James Version on these ones. I would personally at least retranslate the clause “and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth” as “and the beauty of its appearance disappears.”
Verse nine naturally makes sense to us: to rejoice when we are rewarded for our humility. But verses 10 and 11 hearken back to those first few verses where we were also told to rejoice in something that seems negative. The rich are told to rejoice in being made low. They are reminded that all the physical things of this world—their riches, their beauty, their looks, and everything else will all be lost… and they’re supposed to be happy about it! I guess since I am definitely not a rich person, I haven’t completely had the insight perhaps I need to truly understand these verses. Nonetheless, I do find some reassurance in the thought that the physical is temporary. My insomnia, my ADD, and SSA—all of them pertain only to this life. Like flowers, they will fade and die when I do, and my resurrected self will be without those things.

12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
14 But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

That theme of resisting temptation and the blessings for doing so is reiterated in verse 12, and then he explains some interesting and important truths about the nature of temptation itself. First, he tells us that God doesn’t send temptation! This is an important caveat to his other statements in the chapter, because he has told us to be grateful for temptation; this could lead us to think that temptation comes from God. Yet, God merely ALLOWS us to experience temptations—He doesn’t personally send them! We tend to attribute temptations to the devil, but interestingly enough James doesn’t do that here. I’ve heard it said that we give Satan way too much credit. Certainly he is capable of sending temptations, but we definitely don’t need a devil to tell us to do something wrong to make an incorrect choice. Our own imperfect natural-man-tendencies are enough to present temptation. When Satan DOES tempt us, I imagine he typically is only able to draw on those inherent to us rather than conjuring up new ones altogether.
This makes perfect sense. I have a body that is full of hormones and receptors that naturally drive me instinctually towards sexual stimulation. So do you. That is actually important and we SHOULD experience those feelings if we are healthy and those systems are working properly. However, not every impulse towards a sexual prelude should be acted upon! In fact, the large majority mustn’t be. This is true regardless of whom you are attracted to. Thus our own natural man creates its own temptations, regardless of whether or not the devil intervenes. There is no sin in experiencing that. But, James continues with a warning regarding acting out on those feelings…

15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.

God doesn’t hold us guilty for the temptations we experience, but He does judge the choices we make. James points out that we have to watch ourselves carefully, because temptations unchecked DO tend to lead to sinful actions, and sin ultimately leads to spiritual death. Thus his succinct advice: “Do not err, my beloved brethren.”

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Contrasting what God DOESN’T give us according to verse 13 (temptation), James now discusses what God DOES give us. He gives us some gifts that are “good” and others that are “perfect.” Some of the GOOD gifts he gives us include… each other! As verse 18 points out, WE are among the gifts He sends to earth. We are gifts to each other, for none of us can really make it on our own. Before a week and a half ago, I had never shared my burden with anybody. Now I’ve told several people, and have been incredibly blessed for doing so! I still don’t ever intend to tell the vast majority of people who know me about my same-sex attraction, but having a few close and loving individuals know is a actually a huge relief—more than I ever could have believed it would be.
Verse 18 also mentions one of God’s PERFECT gifts: the “word of truth.” This refers not only to the scriptures and words of living prophets, nor only to the words He gives us through personal revelation; it is also representative of His perfect son, Jesus Christ (see the first chapter of St. John).
As for the “firstfruits of his creatures” bit—um, I don’t know. I have some guesses about that, but would love any insight from my readers! :D

19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

How to be a faithful gay Mormon—Step Four: grow a thick skin! Being gay, you need to be ready to be persecuted. Being Mormon, you also need to be ready to be persecuted. Being gay AND Mormon, well, buckle yer’ seatbelts, folks! It’s gonna be a rough ride! Unfortunately, the crowds that share these two attributes with me often persecute each other the most. Thus, I’m all-too-often surrounded by the Mormons I know demeaning those who are gay and those I know who are gay trashing the Church. It can be easy to get offended on both fronts, but doing so never helps anyone!
I think these verses from James may be two of the wisest I have ever read. I especially like that he tells us to be “swift to hear.” We must be willing to listen to others, even with different points of view. Being a good listener is often key to effectively serving our brothers and sisters. We may not even agree with everything they say, but often if we listen with an open mind and open heart, we may learn something new including ways we may better ourselves. Either way, we will always understand them better, which will help us love them, for as I’ve said in earlier posts, understanding dispels hate.
Along with being “swift to hear,” we are admonished to be slow at speaking or becoming wrathful. While listening to others is important, it isn’t always going to be prudent for us to speak our minds to them. We should speak only in love, and follow the Spirit. The most important words we can speak are “I love you.” If correction can be given kindly, and is appropriate to give in our circumstances, then weigh your words carefully first. By all means, speaking up may be very important—if nobody ever corrected anyone else, we’d all be a lot more incorrect people! :D However, if the opportunity to correct is especially important, that’s all the more reason why we have to be careful with the delivery, so that an important message isn’t disregarded because it is given harshly. As James reminds us in verse 20, it’s pretty hard to bring about the righteousness of God via wrath.

21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

In verse 19, James encouraged us all to be hearers. Now he adds to that an admonition to be not ONLY hearers, but also doers of the good counsel we hear. I’m not completely sure I understand the mirror analogy James gives, but here’s what I think it means:
When we hear something we should do to better ourselves and don’t do it, it’s like looking at ourselves in the mirror, seeing a great defect within our power to correct, and then doing nothing about it. If we know what is right, it simply doesn’t make sense not to do it. The right thing to do won’t always be easy, but when we choose to be doers, we are “blessed in [our] deed.” I love those blessings. I live for them. I’m aware that I could be choosing to sacrifice close physical relationships for a very long time by choosing the path I have, but those blessings make it totally worth it! J

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

These two verses could easily form the basis of tons of additional posts. They raise great questions for discussion on what religion actually is, etc. We tend to use verse 26 to discuss profanity, swearing, etc. While that is a valid interpretation, I think it has more to do with what he talked about in verses 19-20. He’s saying that regardless of how good we think we are, if we can’t control the things we say—whether in vocabulary or in message—we are deceiving ourselves about our own religiousness. In fact, any time we deceive ourselves in any way, we actually diminish our religious selves. As I’ve written elsewhere, truly the truth makes us free!
More interesting than what James tells us religion ISN’T, is what he tells us it IS in the final verse of the chapter. The basis of religion is two-fold: serving others and avoiding sin. We hear many people concentrate on the first have this verse: the idea that our religiousness is based on our service to and action towards others. This certainly worth emphasizing more! However, I’ve heard people use this verse an excuse for bad action, saying that they are religious because they serve others, so their other choices don’t matter. Don’t forget the second half of the verse: stay unspotted from the world! I’m not perfect yet, but I intend to do my very best on that front.

Well, if you actually read this whole post, congratulations. You are clearly a patient person! You might need a life, though… J


  1. I really enjoyed your post. I got your blog address from my blog that you commented on and I wanted to say that I think you are a very strong individual for staying true to your testimony despite your temptations. I hope God blesses you for your efforts and that your desire to be married in the temple one day can be fulfilled to a chosen daughter of God that you love. Keep the faith and don't give up. Your trials are definitely more severe than most people's are, but think how strong you will become from this and how much it will, and probably has already, helped you grow!

  2. Thanks, Fred. That means a lot coming from a guy like you. I read your blog quite regularly and marvel at your constant vigilance in posting great insights. For those of you who haven't seen it, Fred writes "Fred's Spiritual Corner," another blog you can find on my blog list at the right. It isn't an SSA blog, just a great uplifting blog on scriptural insights from another faithful latter-day saint.


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