This post is the final post of my study of the epistle of James. Today we will study chapter four and five. James somewhat changes course in these chapters. The previous three chapters focused primarily on faith and works. These two chapters view of living a Christian life. As before James’ words are in blue and mine are in black.
- When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. — This verse helps me understand previous verses in the Bible where is flatly say “Ask and you will receive”. Here, James puts some necessary conditions on those words. Asking for the wrong things will get no more response from God than not asking at all. The last part of this verse is the clincher for me. If we ask for something that simply increase our worldly pleasure then don’t count of God answering in the affirmative. In my opinion, narcissism is one of the biggest idols in today’s world. When we always look at things from a selfish self-centered light we are putting ourselves and our personal pleasures above others. Jesus definitely practiced a selfless life and he expects us to do the same.
- Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. — One of my recent personal revelations about the Bible is that Jesus never judged anyone during his ministry but the religious establishment. According to James Jesus expects us to do likewise. James also adds slander to the list. Slander is defined as a malicious, false, and defamatory statement. This goes along with do not bear false witness especially in a hateful way. Of course slander is almost the exact opposite of love.
- Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. — the more affluent among us can’t seem to get a break when it comes to Bible verses. Some say in this verse James is talking to pagan oppressors since Christians would not be weeping and wailing but instead celebrating Christ. The second verse below seems to support that contention but I am just not personally sure.
- The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. — This verse is definitely an attack on those who do not pay a living wage to their workers. Who is included in this group is hard to say but I’m sure the Lord has a list :) Is not raising the minimum wage in the U.S. for more than 10 years part of this? I think it is.
- You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. – Another stern warning from James about having wealth as the idol in your life. It is the self-indulgence aspect of riches that make it so sinful. Not the money itself.
- Above all, my brothers, do not swear — not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned. — To me James message here is quite simple. Always speak the truth! If you are known as a truthful person you will not be asked to swear that you are speaking truthfully. Of course in our legal environment in the U.S. that is another issue. The Quakers and I believe the Amish use this statement to refuse to swear even in the legal mode. In today’s world does this prevent us from saying the “Pledge allegiance to the flag”?? In doing that we are swearing our selves to a kingdom of the world instead of to God’s Kingdom. I will have to think about that one for a while before I can answer. As James said Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak. I will try to do that here. But if you want to chime in with an opinion I would be interested in hearing it.
This post is a continuation of my study of the epistle of James. Today we will study chapters two and three. As before James’ words are in blue and mine are in black.
- For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. — Of course this was the constant mantra of the Apostle Paul too. We need to constantly be reminded that the Law is there to show us our sin and therefore our total need of Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Does this fact invalidate the law? No it doesn’t. We still need it to show us what is right and wrong.
- What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? — This is the particular verse that many of the reformers had difficulty with. On the surface it seems to say that works are an integral part of our salvation. Luther and Calvin in particular were totally offended by this verse. Of course that had something to do with the indulgances that the Catholic church was handing out but that is another post. In reality most of us realize that what James is asking is “do you have head faith or heart faith”. Head faith is just saying the words but not really believing them in your heart. This is kind of like Pascal’s wager http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_wager . To paraphrase it says what harm is their in saying you believe in God. If he exists you gain heaven; if he doesn’t exist it doesn’t matter as we will all go into nothingness. Heart faith on the other hand is totally committed to trying to live out our lives as Jesus taught us. That is to be more Christ like every day. When we do that we obviously effuse good works from every pore of our being.
- Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. — This is another of those life lessons from James. It goes back to his early teaching to do what Jesus says. Faith without actions is dead and worthless faith. This is a hard lesson for us to learn. There is, or at least should be, no such thing as a shallow or greedy Christian. Of course all of us are on different paths to fulfilling this teaching.
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. – James does not mince words in Chapter 2. Faith without deeds is useless and man is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. This verse is most often used to discredit Sola Fida of Protestantism. I can certainly see where Martin Luther had to claim that this epistle did not belong in the Bible!
- With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. — This teaching goes to the heart of the fact that Jesus wants us to love God and to love each other. When we publically praise the Lord but then turn around and curse/criticize/judge others we are not speaking truthfully. God wants us to love everyone. Even our enemies.
- Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. — This like most of the previous verses tells us to live a good life of deeds. But it also adds do this humbly and wisely. Don’t do it in a showy or shallow way.
Next time I will close out my study of James with a discussion of Chapters four and five. These chapters move away from his focus on works to teach us other lessons.