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.
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved,
In our last lesson, we learned that we are to “count it all joy” when we fall into temptation because temptation produces patience, endurance or perseverance in us. And in the next few verses, the actual word “temptation” is used openly, rather than the word previously used, which was “trials.” Now, the full context of this chapter comes into view. There is no doubt, James is talking about the temptation to sin.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (NKJV).
We are finally at the end of this series on Practising Holiness in an Immoral World. For those who have been following along, I hope you have seen throughout this study that the way to holiness only comes when we genuinely work to live each day giving glory to God. Our lives as Christians must not be self-centered but God-centered. This means that living in an anti-Christian culture, as we currently do, can be hard for us “mere humans” to not react when confronted with outright hate. Yet, this is the example Jesus gave us when he went to the cross and this is what is also expected of us.
Before Jesus came on the scene the only “morality” in the world came from what God laid down in the Torah. It was Jewish parents who fought against the immorality of the Roman rulers who surrounded them. They struggled to keep their children from worshipping the hundreds of idols Rome embraced. They struggled to keep their children from sexual immorality. In fact, many of the same issues during Jesus’ time are still going on today.
In Leviticus 11:45 God told the Israelites to “be Holy, for I am Holy.” In Ephesians 5:8 we are told to “walk as children of Light.” And 1 Peter 1:15 says “be holy in all your conduct.” We are reminded time and time again, of what our walk with the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, should resemble. Yet, many Christians seem to struggle with the concept of how to “be holy.” They strive to be good, to do what they “imagine” amounts to holiness. For example, good works – tithing, feeding and clothing the poor, serving on church committees, helping the sick, visiting them in hospital, etc. While all of these things are good they do not make us holy. This form of holiness requires action on our part. Outwardly these things make us “seem” righteous and holy to others. Yet, after performing all these works, many Christians still feel empty. They don’t “feel holy” especially when they often experience anger, impatience and improper thoughts. Perhaps the problem is that they have focused their attention on their good works and on what they could do for God, instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to fulfill His good works in them.