On Sunday we are looking at a really well known passage in James. It’s all about the tongue and its power. This is something we all know, but so often we don’t actually do anything about. We know that our words can give life, or steal life. We all know that once something is said it’s impossible to get back. We all have moments where we wished we had said less.
So James is really not relaying anything new. But just because something isn’t new, doesn’t mean it’s not needed. Because I believe in our day and age, with instant communication, public comments on Twitter or Facebook – learning to control our tongues might just be the biggest relational skill necessary to survive in today’s day and age.
So that’s where we are going on Sunday, but to prep, why not watch this awesome short Pixar movie called “The Birds” because we are going to jump off it on Sunday.
On Sunday we are looking at the most well-known passage of James. The passage where James says “faith without works is dead”.
And we are going to wander into this world and statement of James and explore some of the tension with what he is teaching. And there is a tension because Paul says this in Romans, “So we are made right with God through faith and not by works”.
There is this tension that we want to explore theologically, but then also practically with our lives. So with that why not read all of James 2, to hear his arguments, and thoughts before Sunday. Let his words rattle around a little bit, because the beauty of James is that as he rattles around – he will shake things up. And that’s what we need.
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.
On Sunday we started a brand new series looking at James. We opened up this book by realizing that it is a short, straightforward, and punchy book. James pulls no punches and rattles off challenge after challenge in this book. And it’s a needed book.
Douglas Moo says this about James,
All too easily Scripture becomes a book to be analyzed rather than a message to be obeyed. This message is urgently required. All across the world, people are awakening to biblical Christianity. Third World churches are burgeoning, American ‘evangelicalism continues to attract much attention, and European Christians are seeing renewal and a new evangelistic concern. Yet the personal and social transformation that should accompany such revival are, very often, sadly lacking. Why is this? Surely one of the main reasons is that the simple plea of James – ‘do the word’ – is not being heeded. The bible is being translated, commented on, read, studied, preached and analyzed as never before. But it is questionable whether it is being obeyed to a comparable degree. All this suggests that the message of James is one that we all need to hear – and obey. No profound theologian, James’ genius lies in his profound moral earnestness; in his powerfully simple call for repentance for action, and for a consistent Christian lifestyle.
So we are going to look at one chapter a week, highlighting a key text in that chapter. And while James 1 has lots of great things to look at we focused in on verse 27.
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
And this is probably one of the most well known verses in the Bible and in the book of James. But it is also a really challenging verse. James here pushes past what we say we believe, to examine our lives. He pushes past whether or not “you believe” in Jesus and asks, what do your actions say about what you believe. Do you care for the poor? Do you care for the orphans, the widows, the oppressed and vulnerable?
James wants to shift the discussion from beliefs to actions. And this is one that makes us uncomfortable because we can hide behind our beliefs. We can say we believe the right things, and then not do the right things. James won’t have any of that. So he invites us to examine our lives – are we active in binding ourselves to the poor and oppressed?
But James isn’t done there. He then reminds us not just to actively care for the poor, but to also actively reject systems of oppression. He says, “Don’t let the world corrupt you”. And we hear this and think in terms of morality – like sexual sins or doctrinal deviancy. But that’s not James’ point. James’ point is actually about money, poverty, and economics. James’ point is that we should not let the world corrupt us by joining in a system that exploits the poor, vulnerable, and oppressed.
James is an Old Testament prophet and in many senses what mattered was caring for the oppressed (widows, children, etc). And so James says start doing that, and pull out of systems that do not do that. Who cares if the world says it’s okay to live on the backs of the poor – God says it’s evil.
So James calls us to examine not only our actions, but our economic activities to see if there are areas where we are hurting others. And if we live in the West then for sure our economic activity is hurting others. We know this, that things are cheaper here because someone wasn’t paid fairly elsewhere. There are tons of examples of this all over. And James wants to raise it to our eyes and say this needs to change.
Abraham Joshua Heschel writes this,
The exploitation of the poor is to us a misdemeanor; to God, it is a disaster. Our reaction is disapproval; God’s reaction is something no language can convey.
That’s true. So what do we do with all of this?
Well on Sunday I gave the challenge that we need to bind ourselves to the poor. That means both taking positive action of finding ways to supporting and caring, and also “negative” actions. And by that I mean removing things from our lives that hurt the poor, whether that’s supporting companies profiting from war, buying cheap stuff because it’s easier, or whatever else. We are called to actively support the poor, and actively remove things that hurt the poor.
That’s the call of James – it’s clear, and it’s tough for how to live it out. But it’s something worth trying. And that’s the challenge James is calling us to.
Big Idea: Following Jesus means binding your life to the poor and oppressed.
James is punchy, straightforward, and needed.
The true test of any religious profession is not the outward rituals but real actions demonstrated in real lives.
James says what matters isn’t doctrine but deeds.
We can hide behind our doctrine and our dogma.
We want to talk about our beliefs; James wants to examine our lives.
If we are to care for the poor we cannot be part of a system that exploits the poor.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Have you thought about how your actions are your beliefs before? What was most challenging in this sermon for you? Were you aware of how some of our buying habits hurts others? What habits might Jesus be asking you to change?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Take your family to serve widows, orphans, or the poor this week. Pick a date and plan it out. Maybe serve at a soup kitchen, maybe get toys together to give to a shelter, maybe bake cookies for someone who has lost someone. Make it real and practical.
Challenge for the Week: What can you add to your life to bind yourself to the poor, and what can you cut out that oppresses the poor.
On Sunday we are launching a new series looking at the book of James.
I would just say this, that this is a book that is really neglected. People say it’s not “theological” enough, not like some of Paul’s writings. Others say it’s too disjointed with little bits of wisdom and challenge sprinkled everywhere. I say though that it’s needed.
James is punchy, straightforward, and challenging. James is theological because he refuses to let us share our beliefs, but instead calls out our actions. James is unashamedly Jesus orientated reiterating teaching of Jesus, most often found in Matthew. James is someone our society needs because we are infatuated with beliefs, ideas, theories, and debates. James wants us to care for the poor. James wants us to control our tongues. James wants us to pray.
While we are busy debating, James was busy doing – and we need this reminder. So come Sunday that’s what we are doing, launching into this important, neglected, and almost forgotten book. Hope you can join us.