Continuing with our study of James, there is a theme James is striving to get across to his early readers – pride and selfishness have no place in the hearts of those who serve the Lord. Instead of wrestling with God in prayer, these believers seem to be wrestling with each other and the positions of prestige and power the world offers. James suggests they love the world and what it provides more than they love God. In this chapter, he touches on four main subjects – pride, humility, judging others and boasting.
James begins this third chapter warning that not everyone should be teachers of the Word of God as they are held to a higher standard and accountable to God for what they teach. I have always been of the opinion (because I was taught this) that this chapter of James was speaking about foul language in general. And while foul language should not be part of the Christian’s vocabulary since we are ambassadors for Christ, I now believe James was talking about something entirely different.
Standard Jewish doctrine is that everyone sins and one of the most destructive devices to cause one to sin was the human tongue. Jewish sages warned against teaching error and that those who taught false doctrine would be judged more harshly. During James’ day, to be a Rabbi with followers was to gain a certain amount of prestige and James was addressing those who sought that prestige. Like celebrity preachers today, they were operating from wrong motives and were risking the spiritual welfare of those listening to them. Faith, works and controlling our tongues are crucial to a faith that works.
Are we justified by faith alone? According to the Apostle James, we are not. But according to the Apostle Paul, we are. Who is right? What did Jesus teach? Many Christians believe that they have to work their way to heaven. In other words, the better they do, the higher their chances are of getting through the “Pearly Gates.” Others believe faith is enough and as long as they believe in Jesus as their Saviour that is all that matters. It would seem those in the early church had the same impressions. But as we have seen from the beginning of this study, our actions say a lot about our faith in Christ. James sets the record straight on the importance of our actions as believers in Jesus. Works and faith go hand in hand.
In James chapter one, we learned why, as Christians, we are still tempted to sin and how to keep ourselves from that temptation. In James chapter two the Apostle goes a little further in expressing how, as Christians, we can set ourselves apart from the world. Once again, keep in mind that James is talking to first century Christian Jews. So he is addressing first century problems that might seem strange to us but were a regular occurrence back then.