James 2 & 3 Faith and works
James wants us to link our faith convictions with our attitudes.
Our WISDOM, WORKS and WORDS. But he’s not a linear thinker, one issue then another – these motifs occur in various places. He keeps looping back round in a cyclical way and intertwining them so we connect what we believe with how we will. Like going round a spiral staircase and passing the same thing over and over but from a different perspective. But what’s at the centre is not ‘WORKS’ but WISDOM. James is about living a godly life. And you can’t do that without godly wisdom.
It’s like a tapestry and the threads are wisdom, in how you speak and live – woven together.
Chapter 1:20 was about how we engage with anger. How to respond based on God’s perspective. ‘Your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.’ = Don’t assume your anger equates to God’s anger. You may feel you are angry for truth when in fact you are angry for your preference.
He says ‘be angry and sin not’.
How do you know when your anger is righteous?
- It’s in response to actual sin
- It must be a violation of God’s name and character not yours
- It must be expressed in a way consistent with Godly character
Three tests to apply to yourself – to whether godly wisdom is growing in you;
- Conversation (vs 26)
- Care (27)
- Character and conduct (27)
We can’t do this on our own!
2:1-13 ask us to live consistently and kindly
2: 14-26 generously and openly
James describes the word of God as the perfect law of liberty. The royal law. The law of truth. Why all this focus on the law – where’s grace?
The reason is that the law is not something terrible in the life of the believer! It brings LIFE to us. Paul described it as a schoolmaster that leads us to Christ. James is saying something similar. The law points out my faults. YES! Why? Not so you feel condemned but so we can be honest. And see, there is nothing good in me. I am powerless to change myself.
Our problem is not that we are too Christian, it’s that we have not been Christian enough.
What will save and keep you is grace, to liberate us to live the law.
The Jews revered Torah. It was a way of thinking and being and doing, not just words.
In the sermon of the mount Jesus said he came to fulfil it. Then he lists ways people are not living according to it.
Grace does not lower the bar. It raises it to the point where I say ‘I can’t do that.’
Jesus is saying ‘I am the Torah!’ I am your life. I am your source.
The slang nickname at the time for Torah = ‘The King of the Jews.”
And that was nailed above him on the cross.
Martin Luther called James an ‘Epistle of straw’ because he created a false dichotomy. He saw a disconnection between Paul and James. But James is writing in the midst of an argument between believers who only do and believers who only believe and he brings them together.
And he does it by pointing to their treatment of the poor.
The way some of them treat the poor.
The poor are not the bottom, the rich are not the top. God does not define us like that.
He uses the same illustration of Abraham and Rahab as Paul did. He knows about them. But they are saying ‘If I know it I believe it’. No ‘If I live it I believe it.’ It’s not just our minds but our hearts and hands, our eyes and ears. Faith and life are welded together.
2:26 ‘For just as the body without breath is dead, so belief without life is also dead.’
This is serious! You can tell me you believe it but until you live it you don’t.
‘I believe in forgiveness… but not for that person’.
This is where it works out
He talks about the tongue…
And tells us with grace ‘WE ALL MAKE MANY MISTAKES’
The tongue is a bridle, rudder, fire,
Small things – with lots of influence.
One word can destroy a family, a culture, a church. What took decades to build destroyed in a few minutes!
controlled, untamable, double natured tongue
I’m not the rudder – I’m the boat. God controls me.
My tongue is untameable, I CAN’T DO IT. It’s not ‘I can do it – with a bit of help from God.’
It’s not I can do it – it’s I BLEW IT!
The same mouth that can bring praise to God can speak horrible things. Hurtful, wrong words. How often have I missed the opportunity to bless someone?
I can’t do this.
Unless God lives through me
Then – I CAN.
So – make the call. Say the words. Ask forgiveness. Say sorry. Can we start again? Try it.
What words have been spoken over you or have you spoken over others that need to be broken?