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James and Song Of Songs

By Iain Clements, 22 Jun 2017

On the face of it, there do not seem to be two more different books in the Bible than the two we are hearing preached on Sunday this term.

In the morning we are hearing God speak through the book of James. It is a very direct, challenging word to a compromised church. James’ original audience thought they were doing ok - but in reality they were in real spiritual difficulty. They heard God’s word, but were not obeying it. They gathered to worship, but they way they treated each other showed they were not loving the Lord. They said they had faith, but theirs was a faith that did not change their life - and that showed it was not true faith in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ.

It is hard not to preach and hear the book of James without being challenged. However, God does not speak these words to crush us. Throughout the letter he is calling us to ask him for the true wisdom from above, to hear and obey his word, and to humble ourselves under his mighty hand so he will lift us up.

Our evening sermons have had a very different tone. For many of us the Song of Songs may be our least read book in the Bible. Immediately this is a contrast with James - the challenge for the preacher there is the fact that many of his illustrations and applications are almost over familiar. Rather than being a challenge, the Song of Songs is a collection of emotional love poems. Rather than having to become familiar with a church that the book was originally written to, we have to put ourselves in the place of a young couple beginning their married life together. Instead of the direct language of James (who will always “call a spade a spade”), we have to work hard at getting to grips with poetic images that are unfamiliar to us.

Hopefully though we have not found that unrewarding. Although the series has intentionally covered lots of ground fairly quickly, we should have begun to be encouraged by what God has to say about love and marriage. Hopefully we've also seen that this message applies to us no matter what stage of life we are in.

Despite the contrasts, as I have been preparing the sermons I have been struck by the one theme that links both of these Bible books together. It is the theme of our faithful, covenant relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. A relationship that is so intimate that God gave us marriage to be a picture of it.

Why is the double mindedness that James points out so terrible in the Lord’s sight? Because as Christians, and as the church, we belong to Christ. We are his bride. We are saved to love him (James 1:12). It is no slip the tongue that causes James to cry out “you adulterous people” in chapter 4. To claim to know Jesus, but to ignore his word, love money, and use trials an an excuse for sin is not normal Christianity. It is spiritual adultery - loving the world when we are in an exclusive, loving relationship with Christ.

It is that image that the Song of Songs points out with such passion. We must not ignore the immediate application of the Song to human married relationships. Older commentators were wrong to suggest we should “forget we have bodies” when we read it. God has created us physical beings, and he cares how we love our husbands or wives. But human marriage is a great big illustration to the world of the relationship between Christ and the church. So as we've been going through the Song we've seen how Christ relates to us, and how we are to relate to him. Obviously not in a sexual way, but in real exclusive intimacy.

The only way we will avoid the double mindedness that James warns about, is by growing in our appreciation of the Lord Jesus Christ’s love for us, and our understanding of the relationship we are in with him. So, if you have not been coming along on Sunday evening (and why not? The whole of the Lord’s day belong to him!), read the Song of Songs - it doesn't take very long in one setting.