by Clarence Jordan, of Koinonia Ministries
The Cotton Patch Gospel recasts the stories of Jesus and the letters of Paul and Peter into the language and culture of the mid-20th century United States South. Born out of the Civil Rights struggle, these now classic translations of much of the New Testament bring the far-away places of Scripture closer to home: Gainesville, Selma, Birmingham, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. Purchase the book
1. Greetings from James, a slave of both God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the whole Christian fellowship, wherever it may be scattered.
Consider it a real privilege, my brothers, when you are surrounded by all kinds of difficulties, because you know that when your faith is given a good workout it builds up your determination. And let your determination have that grown-up look, so that you might be mature and well-balanced, not short on anything. If you don’t have enough understanding, ask for it from God, who gives liberally to everyone and without scolding, and it will surely be given to you. But you must ask in complete trust, without any reservations. For the man with reservations is like an ocean wave whipped and ripped by the wind. Such a fellow should not think for one minute that he’ll get anything from the Lord. He’s a fence-straddler and inconsistent in all he does.
9. Let the underprivileged brother take pride in his improved condition, and let the rich brother be proud of being one of the underprivileged, since he, too, like a fragile blossom, will pass away. For as the sun and the scorching winds bear down and wither a plant, and its blossom falls off and its lovely appearance is gone, so it is with the well-to-do man. During his pilgrimage on earth he will be dried up.
12. Fortunate indeed is the man who doesn’t yield to compromise. For when he has come through the test he’ll receive the “Trophy of Life” which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one in a compromised position say: “God put me in this dilemma,” for God himself never makes any compromise with evil, and never puts anyone else in that position. The truth is that each person is dragged and pulled into compromise by his own self-interest. And self-interest, when it gets pregnant, gives birth to sin, and sin grows up and spawns death. Never forget that, my dear brothers.
17. Every good gift and every mature act of sharing is from above, streaming down from the Source of light who never flickers nor enters into an eclipse. It is his intention to bring us up on the word of Truth so that we might be sort of an example to the rest of his creatures.
19. Listen here, my dear brothers. Let every man of you be quick with his ears, slow with his tongue, and hard to get riled up, because a man s temper contributes nothing to God s cause. So scrub off every spot of filth and caked-up evil and submissively accept the transplanted word which can save your souls.
22. Become doers of the word. Don’t kid yourselves by being listeners only, because if a man listens to the word and doesn’t act on it, he is like a person looking at himself in a mirror — he looks himself over, walks away and then forgets what he looked like. But when one takes a good look at the mature idea of freedom, and hangs on through thick and thin, not being a wishy-washy hearer but a man of action, such a person will be really happy in his work.
26. If a fellow thinks he has religion, but can t keep from running off at the mouth, and if he has a dishonest heart, that man’s religion is as dead as a doornail. The religion which God the Father considers pure and clean is to look after helpless orphans and widows and to keep one’s self free from the taint of materialism.
1. My brothers, never let any prejudice creep into the faith of our glorious Lord, Jesus Christ. For if a well-dressed person in expensive jewelry comes to your church, and then a poor fellow in rags comes, and you go out of your way to be nice to the well-dressed person and say to him, “Come over here and sit by me,” and then you say to the poor man, “Stand over there, or go up in the balcony,” don’t you make distinctions in the fellowship and become parties to vicious prejudices? Listen here, my dear brothers, hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world’s goods to be rich in faith and to be full citizens in the spiritual order which he established for those who love him? And here you go insulting the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and actually drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who poke fun at the noble Name you bear?
8. So if you observe the Scripture’s finest law — “Love your neighbor as yourself” — you’re doing all right. But if you segregate, you commit a sin, and stand convicted under the law as a violator. Furthermore, if a man obeys the whole legal code, and yet falls down on just one point, he has busted the whole works. For the same one who said, “Don’t fornicate,” also said, “Don’t murder.” So if you don’t fornicate but do murder you’re a lawbreaker right on. You also must talk and act like people who can be entrusted with the rule of freedom instead of law. For there is merciless judgment on a merciless man, and mercy is much more preferred than judgment.
14. What’s the use, my brothers, for a man to say he has belief but doesn’t have the deeds to back it up? Can his belief do him any good? If a brother or sister is naked and lacking the material necessities of life, and any one of you say to them, “God bless you. May you be warm and well fed,” and yet you do nothing to meet their physical needs, what good is it? So belief, if it is not backed up by deeds, is dead through and through.
16. But somebody will say, “You have belief, while I have deeds.” All right, show me your belief without deeds, and I will show you my belief transformed into deeds. Do you believe there’s only one God? That’s fine. Demons believe this too and shudder at the thought of it.
18. Do you want me to prove to you, you stubborn fellow, that belief without deeds is empty? All right, didn’t our father Abraham win approval of God when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? Here you can see how his belief was helping along his deed, and how by his actions his belief was brought to maturity. It is just like the Scripture says, “So Abraham put his trust in God, since he, being a friend of God, thought it was the only right thing to do.” You see, then, that a man is made whole by what be does, not merely by what he believes. Wasn’t this true even of Rahab the whore? Wasn’t she spared because of what she did in sheltering our spies and letting them escape by another route? So then, as the body without a spirit is dead, even so belief without deeds is dead.
1. Many of you should stop trying to be Bible explainers, my brothers, especially since you know that we bear a much greater responsibility, and we all frequently stumble.
2. If a person is never loose-mouthed, he is a mature man, capable of exercising complete control over himself. For example, by putting a bit in a horse’s mouth to control him, we are able to steer his whole body. And take a ship that’s ever so big and is driven by enormous engines, yet the captain steers it wherever he wants it to go by a little biddy rudder.
5. The same is true of the tongue. It is a small organ with immense potential. Just think what a roaring fire can be kindled with a tiny match! The tongue, too, is a flame, setting the world afire with mischief. It has established itself among our organs and messed up the whole body. It is hell’s blowtorch, making life an inferno. Man can tame — or has tamed — every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and even inhabitants of the sea, yet he is unable to control his own tongue. It is an unsubdued evil, full of deadly poison. With it we praise the Lord and Father, and with the same tongue we cuss out our fellow men who are made in the image of God. From the same mouth comes a prayer and a curse. Such a thing my brothers, should never be. Can good water and brackish water come out of the same spring? Can a fig tree bear peaches, my brothers, or a vine yield figs? Nor can a salt hole give fresh water.
13. Let him who is wise and intelligent among you demonstrate, with true discipline of mind, the fruits of a noble life. But it is nothing to be proud of when you all have bitter jealousy and self-interest in your hearts, turning the truth into a lie. This is by no means divine wisdom; rather it is humanistic, purely intellectual, and devilish. For wherever you find jealousy and self-interest, you also find lack of discipline and every kind of false deed. But divine wisdom is above all saintly, then peaceable, considerate, open-minded, extremely charitable and gracious, consistent, unhypocritical. For the harvest of genuine peace must first be planted by men who live it.
1. Where does all fighting and bickering come from? Honestly now, doesn’t it arise from your mad desires for pleasure which are literally tearing your group to pieces? You grab for everything and get nothing; you are so envious you even murder, and still you can’t be satisfied. You scrap and fight like cats and dogs. You get nothing because you haven’t learned to ask for it. Even when you do ask, you don’t get anything because you ask with a bad motive — so you can spend it on your own selfish pleasures. You whores, don’t you know that to flirt with the world is to jilt God? Anybody who decides to run around with the world makes it clear that he is not God’s friend. Or do you think that there’s nothing to that Scripture which says: “He deeply yearns over the spirit he implanted in you”? What greater favor could he bestow on you? It says further: “God is against the high and mighty and is on the side of the little man.” So turn yourselves over to God. Put up a fight against the devil, and he’ll run from you. Walk close to God, and he’ll walk close to you. Wash your hands, sinners, and clarify your motives, you two-faced people. Learn to take it on the chin, to be actively concerned and serious. Let your gaiety be changed into serious purpose, and your outward joy into solemn intent.
11. Don’t run down one another, brothers. Anybody who belittles his brother or passes sentence on him actually belittles and passes sentence on God’s word. And if you sit in judgment on God’s word, you aren’t obeying it but criticizing it. The only one who has the right to establish and pass sentence on God’s word is he who has the power over life and death. So who do you think you are, you criticizer?
13. Hold on a minute now, you who talk so big and say, “Today or tomorrow we’ll go to such and such a city and stay there a year buying and selling and making a killing.” You don’t know one blessed thing about tomorrow, or even if you’ll be alive. You are just a wisp of smoke which is seen for a little while and then disappears. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord so wills we shall live and shall do this or that.” But still you are proud of your big talk. All such strutting is downright wicked. And it is a sin for a man to know what is right and then not do it.
1. And you rich guys, hold on a minute. Get ready to moan and groan because of the hardships coming on you. Your gadgets are all broken down and your pretty clothes are full of holes. Your stocks and bonds are worthless, and their certificates shall be evidence against you and will gnaw at your hearts like a flame. You piled them up for the Judgment Day.
4. Now listen, the wages of the workers who tilled your plantations and whom you cheated are crying out, and the pitiful pleas of your laborers have been heard by the Lord of Redress. You’ve gorged at the posh restaurants and whooped it up at the swank hotels. You’ve fattened yourselves like a slaughterhouse steer. You arrest and kill even an innocent person who offers no resistance.
7. But you, brothers of mine, hold on till the Lord’s movement gets going. Look how the farmer awaits the precious harvest of his land, staying by it until it receives both spring and summer rains. You, too, hold on and pep your hearts, because the Lord’s movement is right here. Don’t gripe about one another, brothers, so as not to be convicted yourselves. Look, the Judge is ready to convene court!
10. Brothers, if you want a good example of holding on under terrific abuse, take the prophets who spoke up for the Lord. Look how we praise them for sticking it out! You’ve heard of Job’s perseverance, and you see how the Lord brought him through, because the Lord is tenderhearted and sympathetic.
12. Above all else, brothers, don’t pledge, either by the heaven or the land or by any other security. Give an honest and simple “Yes” or “No,” and thus avoid condemnation.
13. If any one of you is suffering abuse, let him pray. If any one is happy, let him sing. If one of you is sick, let him send for the church leaders, and let them pray for him and wait on him in the name of the Lord. Faithful devotion will restore the sick man, and the Lord will make well. And if he has done some sin, this too shall be forgiven him.
16. Be honest with one another about your sins, and pray for each other that you might get the victory over them, for the petition of a truly good man is powerfully effective. Elijah, for instance, was a human being just like us, and he earnestly prayed that it might not rain, and not a drop fell for three-and-a-half years. Then he prayed again and it poured, and things began to grow again.
19. My brothers, if one of you should stray from the truth, and another guides him back, you may be sure that he who guides an erring one away from his false course, will literally save his life and shield him from a lot of sins.