James is a great book written by James, the brother of Jesus, called James the Just. He was a major figure in the early Jerusalem church, and was key in the important letter to the churches on the status of the Gentiles in the churches (Acts 15:13ff), which Paul and Barnabas carried back to Antioch and defended across the Gentile world as they planted churches.
James’ style is direct and practical. His emphasis on the necessity of works to accompany one’s faith cause Martin Luther, a champion of the Protestant, reactionary doctrine of salvation by faith alone, to consider excluding it from the Bible. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and James continued to grace the Protestant Bible, as it should. With these preliminaries out of the way, let’s take a look at the first three chapters.
James returns often to certain themes, so in commenting on it we’ll deal with it more thematically than other books.
Faith must include action
Again, part of the reason that Luther wanted to exclude James from the Bible is that he thought that James contradicted the teachings of Paul about faith. Luther’s perspective was coming from being a former Catholic in the days when works, to the point of Catholicism becoming a works only religion, was the prevalent understanding of Christian teachings. Actually, Paul and James beautifully complement each other, because saving faith will naturally be accompanied by action. The “faith” that many lukewarm disciples hold could best be compared to a mere opinion — something you think, but don’t necessarily do anything with. Faith, on the other hand, is something that you believe strongly enough that you will naturally take action, strong enough to become your reality. This is why James hammers the idea so directly and so often in his letter — apparently there were those who held an opinion, but not a real faith.
He uses a great illustration as he encourages us to do what the Scripture says; he says it’s like looking in a mirror. No one after looking in the mirror in the morning, merely turns around and walks out the door to engage their entire day as they are unless they believed the mirror was lying or how one looks doesn’t matter (in which case they’d probably not look in the mirror in the first place). If you believe that your hair is messed up, you have sleep in your eyes, you have a boogie in your nose, or perhaps you have a bit of dried drool in the corner of your mouth, you will naturally want to fix it. Unless you believed that your place of employment was going to pay you or your work, you probably wouldn’t work there — or if you like the work that well, you’d still go find some gainful employment to pay the bills, right? That’s what faith does.
Faith believes the Bible when it says that sin will kill us, and therefore, it naturally wants to avoid sin. Faith believes that the Lord sees everything, even our hearts and intentions, and will judge us and therefore, naturally lives rightly. Faith believes that the Lord is really served every time we serve someone else, and therefore, it naturally and gladly serves others. Faith believes the Lord, when He said He is in our midst in worship, and therefore it focuses on worship and offers a whole heart and mind to it. Faith believes it, when the Lord says that this life is temporary, and therefore doesn’t emphasize the material. Saving faith believes it, when the Lord says that obedience to Him in faith, repentance, confession, and baptism is necessary to wash our sins away and become His disciple; and therefore, it obeys. Opinions either don’t do these things at all, or pick and choose what they wish to obey. Real faith will change us. Let me consider a couple of things in particular about how faith will change us.
Consideration of the poor
It will change how we treat those less fortunate than we are. The text here focuses on the orphan, the widow, and those less materially well off than we are, but I think it could be stretched to include others that we may look down on, those less beautiful, less svelte, less smart, less educated, less style conscious, less athletic, less… anything that might make us look down our noses at a brother or sister (or anyone for that matter). Those who have advantages in wealth or any other advantage have no reason to look down on another — even if they got their by poor choices (like we’ve never made a poor choice in our lives!). Faith sees that we are really brothers and sisters in Christ, and must treat each other like family — in love, concern, equality, concern, sympathy, forgiveness, encouragement, and even putting others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;”).
James reveals that the tongue can really send us to Hell. Do we believe that? If we did, would we be so careless with it? The list of sins that we can commit with the tongue is actually quite long — we’re not just talk about swearing and lying and gossiping. There’s much more, not the lest of which is even teaching false doctrine (Gal. 1:8,9). There’s a Christian discipline that has been long used as a means for learning how to curb the tongue — silence. And occasionally, if we have a hard time with our tongues, it might be a way to teach ourselves to stop and think before speaking.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.