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James  2

(I have chosen to take this chapter out of the original order. James, in my opinion, has given us the example before the principle, and I have reversed that order for purposes of teaching).

Faith and Deeds

(James 2:14-26 NIV) What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? {15} Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. {16} 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? {17} In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. {18} But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. {19} You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. {20} You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ? {21} Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? {22} You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. {23} 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. {24} You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. {25} In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? {26} As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

This passage, one of the most difficult in the New Testament for theologians (Martin Luther considered that the book of James did not belong in the New Testament because of this passage) is one in which the simple interpretation is the best. Do not read too much into it; rather, take what James has said as exactly what he meant.

Faith: Intellect, Emotions and Will

Among many other things, there are three things which I hold to be true:

·         That the orbit of Mercury is inside the orbit of Venus

·         That UCLA has a better team than USC

·         That my wife is faithful to me.

Each of these is an example of the types of faith that James has described here. Perhaps the best test of the difference is to ask, "what happens if someone were to prove these statements wrong?" For example:

·         Suppose some brilliant astronomer proves that Mercury does occasionally swing outside the orbit of Venus (I can't imagine how). I would be very curious to see the evidence (with a degree in physics, of course I would). But what effect would it have on my daily life? None.

·         Each year those two teams meet on the football field to settle precisely that question. Suppose UCLA loses. I would not be at all pleased, of course. I probably would discuss it quite a bit ("they should have punted.") But again, no real effect on my daily life. "Even the demons believe, and shudder."

·         But as for you, sweetheart, recall that I don't believe in divorce either! (Murder yes, divorce, no). This is faith that makes a difference in my life. This type of faith in Christ is one that produces results!

We are saved by grace through faith, not by deeds. But it seems the deeds are a sign of the faith.

The Thermometer Principle

Every time I go to the doctor's office, the nurse sticks a thermometer in my mouth. Why?

·         It may be simply that she doesn't want to hear me talk.

·         But it's more likely that she expects to learn something about my health from this (even if I'm in to have warts removed).

Deeds are the thermometer of the faith. We are saved by grace through faith; deeds are the natural result of faith.

We can, of course, fake the reading on the thermometer. We can say to God, "See, I must have faith - look at all the good things I'm doing." God is not deceived; he knows the difference between a cause and a result - and so should we.

The Law as Schoolmaster

It helps to know the rules before you break them - if you consider yourself a craftsman of any sort.

·         Every one who learns a craft starts out with "the rules." You learn them by rote at first; if the craft is a dangerous one, it is essential. This is the relationship the Law (the Old Testament) has to us. It is the way in which God taught Israel just what kind of God he truly is. But when the training is complete - when Christ comes - the rules are no longer binding. The master is beyond "the rules."

·         The rules still serve a function, however. They are reminders of the principles behind the rules. They are no less true than they were before, just less useful, because they would restrict one who is a master craftsman. Are they still true? I remember a sign in a pilots' ready room: "There are old pilots, and bold pilots - but no old, bold pilots."

Grace and Imputation

If we look at our works as a way to "earn" favor from God - to promote ourselves into heaven - we have a distorted view. The rewards God gives to the faithful are not wages earned for good deeds; rather, they are the fruits of God's love for us. You do this with small children every day. The rewards for their good behavior are out of proportion to their deeds. Why? First because the object of such a reward is not "wages" but molding of character. Next, because a loving parent wants to give to a child far beyond what he deserves - but at a time when the child will draw the right conclusions from the gift.

That's grace! God "rewards" our deeds far out of proportion to their actual worth - especially to Him. He is not our employer at a "Good Deed Factory" - he is our loving Father, bringing many sons and daughters to glory.

Partiality Forbidden

It may seem strange, but I would like to take the example given here as precisely that: an example of good deeds. Hear what James has to say about a problem which still troubles the church greatly: Partiality.

(James 2:1-13 NIV) My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. {2} Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. {3} If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," {4} have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? {5} Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? {6} But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? {7} Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? {8} If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. {9} But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. {10} For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. {11} For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. {12} Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, {13} because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

There are many reasons why we are forbidden to show partiality. Do recall that in this time the church met in the homes of believers; like our homes today, we have good seats and bean bag chairs. So if the example seems strange, just bear with me - it will be much clearer soon.

Why are we forbidden to show such partiality?

·         In so doing, we judge others. This is strictly forbidden to the Christian.[1]

·         In so doing, we despise those whom God has honored. God made many of the poor; it is a principle of Scripture that his power is shown best through the weakness of man.[2] Should we despise those whom God has chosen to show his power and strength?

·         Is this not "the world's way?" The world says to honor the rich and seek to be like them. Christ says to honor God and be like him. Whom should we imitate?

·         There is also the Royal Law - love your neighbor as yourself. If you went to a church in a distant city (say, on vacation) and discovered that your tourist clothes were out of fashion in their formal world, how would you feel being snubbed for your clothes?

·         Judgment is as we are judged. If we show no mercy, then no mercy will be shown to us. It is the yardstick principle again; God will use our yardstick to measure us.

·         Finally, we are forbidden to show partiality because we are the servants of "our glorious Lord Jesus Christ." It is our purpose to show the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ to all who are willing to see. He intended that glory to be seen by every living person. If by our partiality we fail to praise him, we oblige him to find someone else who will - if even the rocks and stones.

But, you say, I am not partial; I do not favor the rich over the poor. Shall we see about that?

Partiality comes in many flavors

We see the sinfulness of discriminating between rich and poor; after all, it is the example that James uses. But Satan has not been idle in this arena. Submitted for your consideration:

·         Rich and poor - by appearance. I once was in a very stuffy church into which walked a biker - leather and all. The frostbite in the air was heavy. Was this right?

·         Race. It is a commonplace that we have overcome this - but not by our imitation of Christ, only by social convention. We need the courage of Lee taking communion[3] to overcome this. If you think not, look around your supermarket - and then look around your church. This is a quite understandable thing; we are taught from birth to divide the world into "them and us." But consider this: suppose "they" really are (somehow) inferior. Is this not all the more reason to welcome them into God's house? And if God's house, our lives too?

·         Disability. This is perhaps more subtle. Most of us are aware of the changes in physical architecture that the laws have recently required - handicap ramps for example. One set of stairs can be as tall as Mount Everest to a wheelchair. Even more, if the disability makes someone different - cerebral palsy or epilepsy come to mind - our shyness may make us cold when we should be warm.

·         Marriage. "Marriage?" Oh yes - or more properly the lack of it. The single woman (especially the older one) is viewed as a threat. The divorced woman is even more so, not to mention the thought that God hates divorce (and therefore just could not approve of a divorced woman). Sometimes we have the "SOS - single on Sunday" woman. Even the widow or widower can feel out of place. If you think not, how many chairs are around your dining room table - an even or odd number? This is not Noah's ark; there is no requirement for "two by two."

·         Sinfulness. There are respectable sins and disrespectable sins. Consider two characters of the Bible, and their reaction to a church which is "self respecting:"

·         Dives. The rich man who saw Lazarus at his gate comes to the church and hears the word - but sees that only the acceptable are admitted. The others are subtly discouraged. He quickly concludes that only the respectable are admitted, though the preaching says otherwise. Being rich and respectable, he has no need for such hypocrisy.

·         Magdalen. The prostitute (probably not the name) sees a different side. She too sees the respectable - and no chance of concealing her past. She leaves, looking for the love only God has, which is certainly not visible here.

Does it matter how we show partiality? I think not. You want an example right in the church building of the kind of good deeds that show true faith? Here is a good example: that we show no partiality. If you are a servant of "our glorious Lord Jesus Christ" then you will, like your Lord and Master, welcome all. "Whosoever will" was the criterion of Jesus. Should we add to that?

If you consider yourself a servant and imitator of Jesus Christ, be like him. Let the rain fall on the just and unjust, the rich and poor, those of every race and color, whatever their physical or mental problems might be, in whatever state of marriage they might be, without regard to their sins or lifestyles.

There is only one qualification for becoming a Christian: you have to be a sinner first. All of us qualify. Therefore, let us welcome with open arms all who will come - as the example of our Lord makes clear.

[1] For example, Matthew 7:1.

[2] 2 Corinthians 12:9

[3] See Meditations on Communion

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