All the Bible, Every Book: James
Live Your Faith!
But be sure to live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. (James 1:22)
The nine General Epistles point to the person and work of the resurrected Christ. They encourage Christians to cling to Him and exhort them to serve Him faithfully because He is the only source of life. Written primarily to persecuted Jewish Christians, the truths apply to every believer from every culture and in every age of church history.
James, the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), shepherded the church at Jerusalem. His passionate speech at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13-21) affirmed the gospel’s offer to Gentile nations, but warned the church against lifestyles that would undermine the message of the Son of God. His passion for godliness is evident in the letter he wrote to his Jewish brethren dispersed throughout the New Testament world. “As you receive the Good News that saved you from your sin be sure to live out that message, regardless of what it costs you!”
God would ask James to pay the ultimate cost for living out the message of Messiah. He was martyred in A.D. 62. His epistle is probably the earliest of the divinely inspired writings of the New Testament, perhaps as early as A.D. 45. Like Hebrews, James is more of a sermon in written form than a letter. “The chief aim of the Epistle is to strengthen the faith and loyalty of the Jewish Christians in the face of persecution from rich and overbearing Jews who were defrauding and oppressing them.” (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6:6) It seems James reworked a series of five sermons teaching that faith in God is designed to be lived out in real life. Echoing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, James focuses on five behaviors that demonstrate the righteousness of a Christian in daily life:
James: Don’t just study Jesus’ message, live it out in real life!
James deals with five practical issues that both immature and mature Christians face in life.
I. James exhorts Christians to live out the message of that saved them in five difficult areas of life so that his readers would move on to maturity.
A. Live out your faith in trials (1). God uses the trials of life to mature us, if we patiently endure them as we trust Him in spite of the pain.
B. Live out your faith in unprejudiced love (2). To love others without prejudice in this prejudiced world requires vibrant faith. If we say we have faith that God can care for the poor and needy but do not act on that faith, our faith is useless to them.
C. Live out your faith in your speech (3). Godly wisdom is demonstrated in our words—words that bless and build up rather than words that hurt and tear down.
D. Live out your faith in your conflicts (4). Those who humbly submit to God maintain peace in personal relationships. Pride resists God’s desire to live for others.
E. Live out your faith in your finances (5). Submit your money to God patiently and prayerfully so that you use your finances to serve others rather than hoarding it for yourself.
Faith and Works in James 2:14-26: I believe that the “dead faith” of this passage is the faith of a Christian who erroneously concludes that believing that God can feed the poor is enough. Their faith is dead, or useless, to the poor person who needs their help. The hypothetical “someone” in 2:14 is identified as “one of you” in 2:16. And one of you would be the Christians he’s addressing (1:2, 19; 2:1, 14; 3:1; 4:11; 5:7, 10, 12, 19).
It seems to me that James isn’t concerned with the reality of his readers’ faith, but the quality (1:3, 6; 2:1; 5:15) and usefulness (1:12, 26; 2:14, 16, 20) of their faith. The thrust of the entire book is to exhort Christians to “live out the message implanted in your souls” (1:21-27). The faith of demons in 2:19 demonstrates the uselessness of faith in a message that isn’t applied. The demons didn’t believe the gospel and they didn’t believe in Jesus as the One who deserved their loyalty. They believe that God is one, but that belief is useless to their state of trembling in fear before the Son of God because they failed to apply that faith to their existence. Their “faith” or absolute conviction that Jesus is God is useless to them. In 2:26 James is not saying that faith energizes works, but that works energize faith. I don’t believe the issue here is whether faith exists in a believer, but how faith becomes profitable or useful to a Christian and His God.
II. JAMES AND YOU: James exposes the gap between saying we believe what Jesus says about the most difficult areas of the Christian life and actually living as if it were true. The warning against useless faith is that until our faith in the truth of God’s word is applied to our lives, the truth can’t deliver, or “save” that area of our life. Living in harmony with God’s will is the best option in life. A good question to ask about each of these five areas is, “Have I trusted God and His truth enough to do what He says with my …
… trials, pain, disappointments and discouragements? God says that He is using the trials of my life to produce the patience that leads to maturity. What am I thinking or saying about my trials?
Are they “mistakes” that shouldn’t happen to a person like me? Are they evidence that God doesn’t love me as much as He says He does? That He doesn’t care for me as much as He says He does? Or, are they sure evidence that He loves me so much that He is always doing something in me that only He could accomplish … even when it hurts?
… unprejudiced love demonstrated in good works toward the hurting and the needy? God says that we should not be respecters of person. What am I thinking, saying, and doing when I meet an influential person? How about when I meet someone who is poor, needy, or irritating?
Are influential people more important because they can enhance my career or esteem? Are the poor, needy, and irritating people those I need to steer clear of because they are just too much for me right now? Or, are the poor, needy, and irritating the ones I need to attend to and trust God for the results?
… wise speech that speaks the truth, blesses and builds up? God says that our words matter to Him. He tells us that we should not use our words to hurt others or to manipulate our world. He says that we should control our tongue. What are you thinking at that precise moment when you are tempted to use your tongue in the precise way God says not to?
Are you thinking, “I have to get this off my chest,” “It’s important for people to know my perspective, my defense, my hurt,” and, “I just think people ought to know this”? Or, are you keeping your mouth shut and trusting God for the results?
… relational conflicts? God says that conflict is the product of covetous pride. Peace is the product of humility. What are you thinking about the personal conflicts in your life right now?
Are you thinking that the reason for this conflict is what others have done to you or not done for you, or how they have misunderstood you? Or, are you admitting that your part in this conflict is the covetous pride that has to make sure that I’m understood, or valued, or right?
… your money? God says that the reason He gives you money is to bless others, and that when we don’t have enough we should be patient and pray for more to bless people more.
Are you thinking that the reason for your financial trouble is that you don’t have enough money or that God isn’t taking care of you as He should? Or, are you admitting that the primary source of your money problems is that you think of your money as belonging to you and not as a gift of God to bless others?