Works out both ways…

I was helping out with some pre-marriage counseling recently, when the issue of finances and how different perspectives come into play was brought up. The husband I was meeting with said, “we needed good speakers so I bought the best Bose Speakers. It’s a good investment.” The wife replied, “We don’t have as much money saved as we thought necessary to be safe.” Both had a point, but it was entirely different.

You might be saying to yourself, what does this have to do with the book of James? I’m glad you asked. When you read James after reading through Paul’s writings (which we have done) you might find what you think are inconsistencies of teachings. These seemingly contradicting statements have caused debates throughout centuries. At first glance, it seems that Paul says salvation is by grace (Eph 2:8-9), and James says it is by works (James 2:14).

However, they are facing different problems and are addressing them in different ways. Paul is facing people who say works, whether good or bad, make a fundamental contribution to when one becomes a Christian. He dealt with this issue in the book of Galatians. Paul answers that God’s grace is received by faith alone. Paul’s focus is on the vertical side of relationships with God. He argues that works cannot help a person become a Christian.

James, however, is facing people who argue that saving faith is found even in those who simply affirm that there is one god (2:19). Their lives are described as double minded (1:8). They ignore widows and orphans and are worldly (1:26-27). They use their words in a profane way (3:1-12), play favorites between one another, and are proud of their possessions (5:1-6). Paul’s answer is that such faith is inadequate; genuine faith produces good works, or else it is dead faith. James also argues that the Christian must display works. His perspective is much more toward the horizontal in the aspect of living out the faith. Paul, of course, would not disagree with this (Look at I Corinthians 6:9-11).

James 3 illustrates this topic clearly by providing the best-known passages in all of literature dealing with the tongue. If we profess that we are Christians, a key way to show the world we are truly different is to control our mouths. James gives three analogies to illustrate this teaching. He suggests that if we praise God and abuse people with the same tongue, then the praise we offer to God cannot possibly be more than religious jargon. What a very practical test to take and see if we are living a godly lifestyle and reflecting the love of Christ to the world.

Tips for Reading- (Application tip # 3)

Note: This section is help for Bible Reading in general. It has been building throughout the year under the topics of Observation (what the Scripture says), Interpretation (what it means) and Application (what it means to your life). Feel free to look back over past weeks to get the whole picture.

The next question in the area of application is this, “is there a sin for me to avoid in this passage?” Reading the scriptures is supposed to raise our awareness of our own lifestyle. The scriptures call us to a different standard of living. Before I came to faith, I didn’t even know I shouldn’t talk in a profane manner. Everyone around me did and I just thought it was life. Then I read in the book of James, “with the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3:9-10). Immediately, with this application question, I will take a review of my words of late and see how I have been doing.

Notes from David’s Journal

Theologian Martin Luther called the epistle of James "an epistle of straw." His reason was it didn't talk enough about God's grace and commands followers to Jesus to good works. From this book comes the words, "Faith without works is dead." What gives? Should we dismiss James? Of course not. James does talk about faith, he just emphasizes the need to put our faith into action. We are not saved by our good words, but we are saved for good works. Anyone who says they believe in Jesus but never put it into action has a superficial faith.

Also, as you read through James, pay attention to its most famous chapter: Chapter 3. It deals with the power of the tongue. Life and death is in the power of the tongue. We can either build up or tear down people with our tongues. Here James gives us some specific instruction, not only about the danger of our words, but how to use the tongue appropriately, especially in praising the One who made and saved us!

Enjoy James. It may the most practical book in the Bible. It's the Proverbs of the New Testament!

AuthorAlexander Vijay Smith