How to Live with Faith and Works
- How to Avoid Partiality (Jas_2:1-7)
- How to Fulfill the Law of Love (Jas_2:8-13)
- How to Make Faith Work (Jas_2:14-26)
Now we come to the very heart of the message of James. Christians have always had great difficulty in understanding the relationship of faith and works. The early church struggled a great deal with this tension—especially those believers who had Jewish roots.
Of course, it was to these people—Jewish Christians—that James was writing. They understood the message declared by Paul to the church in Ephesus, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph_2:8-9).
Like us, they faced the challenge of relating faith to works in their daily Christian living. The problem led them to one of two extremes. There were the Judaizers who taught that in order for one to be an authentic Christian, a person first had to become a Jewish convert and then be converted to Christ. Paul's letter to the Galatians meets that false teaching head-on. He writes in deeply theological terms regarding the fact that Jesus Christ came to set us free from the impossible demands of the law.
In fact, he calls the Judaizers "foolish" or "stupid" who would return to the slavery of living under the Jewish law (Gal_3:1-5). Paul taught that, "The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Gal_3:24-25).
That very teaching became central to the Protestant Reformation. Justification by faith alone, sola fides, was the focus of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other leaders of the Reformation. For example, because of Luther's primary focus upon justification by faith, he had a major problem in understanding the message of James. He referred to the Book of James as an "epistle of straw."
However, since Luther's day, Lutheran scholars and other Reformation and biblical scholars have come to understand that the teaching of James regarding the relationship of faith and works is not a refutation of Paul's teaching. Instead, James wrote to correct those who were distorting Paul's teaching.
The Christians of James' day faced a problem which many of us are facing in the contemporary day. In simple terms, many Christians were "coasting" in their commitment of following Jesus Christ as Lord. They were practicing what Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to as "cheap grace." They believed incorrectly that Christian faith is merely a matter of "profession" and not "possession." In other words, they "talked" about Christian discipleship, but they didn't "live" it.
A number of years ago, a friend of mine was working with teenagers who were involved in gangs in one of the high-crime areas of New York City. Through his ministry, scores of those young people came to a personal faith in Jesus Christ and were set free from the slavery of crime and violence.
As this community of faith began to grow, those new Christians began to reach out with love to their former gang members. Whenever one of these tough gang members would profess to receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the more mature Christians would be concerned that they were really sincere about their commitment. They would share this message with the new converts. "Don't tell us that you are a Christian; we'll tell you!" In other words, don't merely say you are a Christian; prove it by the way in which you live.
These young people were saying to those new Christians what James is teaching in this chapter of his letter. Authentic Christianity is not merely a matter of talk; it must show itself in appropriate action! We will be known as Christians not simply because we say we have faith, but by how we demonstrate that faith in our lifestyles. Indeed, professed faith without appropriate deeds is worthless.
As James shares his practical teaching on this vital subject, he begins by discussing how we should "live out our faith" in the way we treat both the rich and the poor people who come into our lives, and specifically, who come into our churches. This is a graphic example of how we should put our faith to work.
How to Avoid Partiality
The sin of partiality is one of the most subtle of all sins. Partiality reveals a non-Christian sense of values. God shows no favoritism (Act_10:34) and neither can His followers.
The members of the early church shared everything they had; they held everything in common (Act_2:44-45). Those who believed were "of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common" (Act_4:32).
The simple result was that none of them lacked anything which he needed (Act_4:34). As William Barclay said about those remarkable early believers, "None of them had too much and none of them had too little."
It was within the context of this kind of lifestyle that James writes to warn believers of the sin of partiality and to remind us of God's sense of values. In short, he instructs his readers to avoid partiality by observing three specific principles.
James begins his teaching with examples of how Christians would tend to treat two kinds of persons who might visit church. The illustration is hypothetical but extremely probable and practical.
First is the example of the rich man who would enter a church service. He would be wearing fine clothes and gold rings. The human tendency would be to welcome him warmly and to invite him to sit in the place of honor.
But why should you do such a thing? James asks, "Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?" (Jas_2:6). "Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?" (Jas_2:7).
We must be careful to realize that James is not asking us to discriminate against the rich. He has already addressed that important issue in chapter 1, verses Jas_1:10-11. He is stating simply that rich people should not be treated with any special honor or favor. True value in the kingdom of God has nothing to do with bank accounts, gold rings, or fine clothes.
In fact, Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Mat_19:23-).
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that we should not be worried about clothes or food or drink or riches. Instead, we should lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, and we should seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Mat_6:19-34).
The truly rich in the kingdom of God are not those who have fine clothes, costly jewelry, or great possessions. Only those who are rich spiritually are laying up treasures in heaven which shall last for eternity.
And so the teaching of James is clear; do not show favoritism to the rich. Do not give them special attention or bestow upon them special honor.
James presents a second hypothetical example to illustrate his warning against the sin of partiality. He suggests that a poor man might come into the Christian assembly dressed in filthy clothes. The tendency would be to treat him much differently than a rich person.
Rather than inviting him to sit in a good place, the Christians might ask him to stand in an inconspicuous place or to, "Sit here at my footstool" (Jas_2:3).
Recently, I was reminded of James' example while I was worshiping in a fashionable Southern California church. During the worship service, a shabbily dressed man staggered into the beautiful sanctuary. He sat down next to me on a pew covered with a beautiful velvet pad.
An usher came running to him and asked him to leave the sanctuary. The man protested and refused to leave. Finally, the usher decided to allow him to remain where he was seated. However, the odor from his unbathed body began to offend some of the people seated near him. One by one, they began to depart. They did not understand the teaching of James. They were offended by the poor man and were not willing to reach out to him in love or even tolerate his presence.
James speaks to this kind of reaction. "Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him?" (Jas_2:5). In summary, do not dishonor the poor (Jas_2:6). Do not put down a person simply because he is poor. Many of the poor of this world are the rich of God's kingdom!
The basic premise of the teaching of James regarding the sin of partiality is found in the first verse of chapter 2. "My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality." Those who follow Jesus Christ as Lord cannot be partial to either the rich or the poor.
The result of the sin of partiality is found in the ninth verse of chapter 2. "But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors." Indeed, partiality breaks the law of God and brings the judgment of the law. The result of sin is always spiritual death—and so the sin of partiality brings death to interpersonal relationships which could be meaningful and could serve as a bridge to introducing a visitor to eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
The solution to the problem of partiality is found in verse Jas_2:8 of chapter 2. "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you do well." Love is the key to overcoming partiality.
When you love another with Christ's love, you are always at eye level. You can neither look up at another nor down. Everyone who comes into our lives is on one level, whether rich or poor, bathed or unbathed, impressive or unimpressive.
God loves them all equally, and so must we. Indeed, the church should be the one social institution where all are treated equally. All are loved. Everything is shared. No person is violated. The lordship of Jesus Christ brings the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who generously shares the fruit of the Spirit and the unity of the Spirit.
All are one in Jesus Christ. "There is neither Jew nor Greek … slave nor free … male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal_3:28). That is the good news of the lifestyle of the church of Jesus Christ. There is no partiality with God, and there can be no partiality in His church!
How to Fullfill the Law of Love
Love is the key to Christian lifestyle. In fact, love is the very essence of God. The most profound definition of love found in all of human literature is that revealed by John, the beloved apostle, "For God is love" (1Jn_4:8). God's love (agápē) is unconditional love. There are no strings attached.
God has loved us from the beginning; even while we were yet sinners (Rom_5:8). In fact, nothing can separate us from God's love (Rom_8:35-39). It was this great quality of love that brought Jesus into the world to rescue us from our sins (1Jn_3:16).
Jesus came teaching the importance of the life of love. He said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Joh_13:34, Joh_13:35).
James refers to this commandment of Jesus as "the royal law of love." As the reader might suspect, he not only relates to this law of love as essential; he teaches us how to fulfill this royal law.
1. All of us have broken God's law (Jas_2:10). James begins by reminding us that all of us have broken God's moral law. He agrees with the apostle Paul, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom_3:23).
His argument is penetrating. He states simply that if we should keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, we are guilty of all (Jas_2:10). Then he shares a vivid example of just what he means. If we should not commit adultery, but if we should murder someone, then we are guilty of breaking God's moral law. In other words, if you could live your whole life and just break God's moral law once, you would be guilty of breaking all.
I am reminded of a man with whom I counseled a number of years ago who had worked out of his own moral law. He envisioned God sitting at a great scale somewhere in the heavens. According to his theory, God placed every one of his actions on the scale.
All the good acts were placed on one side while the sinful acts were placed on the other. The man's goal was to keep the scale slightly balanced to the "good" side of his scale. And, if when he died the scale was tipped in the right direction, he would go to heaven.
Most of us have either consciously or unconsciously attempted to please God in that way. We have tried to live good lives. We have tried to "tip the scales" in the right direction! James refutes that argument as ridiculous. Only one sin in an entire lifetime would tip the scale the wrong way. We have all broken God's law. We have all sinned. We have all missed the mark.
2. Only love can fulfill the law (Jas_2:8). In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled" (Mat_5:17-18).
The apostle Paul continues that teaching when he writes, "Owe no one anything but to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law" (Rom_13:8). Then he continues by saying that the commandments of God's moral law such as "you shall not murder" and "you shall not steal" and any other commandment is "summed up in this saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom_13:9-10).
This is what James calls the "royal law." Paul summarizes it well in Gal_5:14, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"
Of course, this "royal law" was first revealed by God to His covenant people as part of the Levitical law. (see Lev_19:18). Jesus came to not only teach this law but to live it. Indeed, He is the personification of the royal law of love.
And so it is fitting that James should use "kingdom vocabulary" as he teaches about the life of love. Love is expected in the lives of those who follow Jesus Christ as Lord. In the fifth verse of chapter 2, James refers to Christ's kingdom. In the seventh verse of the same chapter, he refers to "that noble name by which you are called." Of course, he is referring to the name of Jesus.
Then he refers to Christ's new commandment as the "royal law." He recognizes that this teaching was shared not merely by a great religious teacher, but by the King of kings! Indeed, Jesus Christ is the King of the kingdom of God.
Jesus understands that we cannot keep God's moral law. However, the problem was not with His law. In fact, His law is good. The problem is with us because we are too sinful to obey it (Rom_8:1-4).
And so God has sent to us a Savior to rescue us from our sins. Jesus Christ has come to not only save us from our sins, but to live in us and through us in the person of the Holy Spirit, to heal our rebellion and free us to obey. As Paul wrote, "The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal_3:24).
3. Only Christ can supply that love (Jas_2:12, Jas_2:13). Jesus Christ is the source of agápē love. It can come only from Him. We cannot fabricate this quality of love. We cannot "fake it" or pretend that we have it. Only when we are in Christ and He is in us can we enjoy that love and express it to others.
John writes, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1Jn_4:7-8). Indeed, this love flows from God Himself. "If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit" (1Jn_4:12-13).
This dwelling in Christ and allowing Him to dwell in us in the person of the Holy Spirit is the key to the life of love and the fulfillment of the "royal law." As Paul declares, "I say then: Walk in the Spirit… if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal_5:16-18). Paul then goes on to compare the works of the flesh to the fruits of the Spirit.
Love is the first of the fruits of the Spirit. Where there is the Spirit of God, there is love! If we are to fulfill the "royal law" of love, then we must allow God to be in us and to live through us. Only then can love pour from our lives. Only then will we be recognized by our love. Indeed, "They will know that we are Christians by our love."
In this passage, James also refers to the law of love as the law of liberty. That, too, is the vocabulary of God's kingdom. He has come to set us free from the yoke of bondage (Gal_5:1). Jesus said, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Joh_8:32).
The life of walking with Jesus Christ in the Spirit will provide the fruit of love and the joy of liberty. Only in Christ can we be authentically free!
This liberty comes not from the law, but by Christ's mercy. And His mercy triumphs over judgment (v. Jas_2:13). Therefore, writes James, because Christ has set us free to live and to love, we should "speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty" (Jas_2:12). John teaches the same basic truth when he says, "Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (1Jn_3:18).
We can fulfill the law of love only when we (1) acknowledge that we have broken God's law; (2) discover that only the life of love can fulfill that law; and (3) believe that only Christ can supply that love! Then we must receive the gift of the Holy Spirit day by day so that God's love can dwell within us and flow from us to touch the lives of others.
This lifestyle of living under the lordship of Jesus Christ sets us free to enjoy the life of mercy, the life of liberty, and the life of love. "If you really fulfill the royal law … 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you do well" (Jas_2:8).
How to Make Faith Work
The central theme of James is practical Christianity. That is the thread woven throughout the pages of his letter. However, central to his teaching is that which this passage reveals—the relationship between faith and works. In the first chapter, he sets forth the proposition that we must not only be hearers of the Word, but also doers (Jas_1:22).
The result of being merely hearers and not doers is that we deceive ourselves into believing that we are something which we are not. And so it is with attempting to live a life of faith which does not demonstrate itself in appropriate works. Faith without works is worthless to James.
Let us define faith. Our English word "faith" as found in the New Testament is the translation for the Greek noun pı́stis, which is often defined as firm persuasion, conviction, or trust. The noun form pı́stis comes from the verb peithō, which is translated as believe, have confidence, persuade, trust, or obey.
This quality of faith is central to Christian living. In fact, the writer of Hebrews declares that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb_11:6). This basic tenant of the Protestant Reformation and of Christian lifestyle is repeated four times in both the Old and New Testaments: "The just shall live by faith (Hab_2:4; Rom_1:17; Heb_10:38; Gal_3:11).
As we study the Book of James, we should not be surprised to discover that he gives us some very practical definitions of faith. In this particular passage, he defines faith in four ways.
(1) Saving faith must include deeds or works (v. Jas_2:14). In fact, any faith without works is "useless" (Jas_2:20, NIV). (2) Faith by itself, without works or action, is dead (v. Jas_2:17). As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead (Jas_2:26). (3) Faith can-not be mere mental assent or intellectual belief. The demons have that kind of belief (Jas_2:19). (4) As we have seen, biblical faith is best defined as active obedience. James uses two specific examples to reveal this vital truth: Abraham (Jas_2:23-24) and Rahab (Jas_2:25). These examples coincide with all of the examples shared by the writer of Hebrews in chapter 11. The one common denominator of every person in Scripture who honored God by their faith is that they actively obeyed Him.
Now let us define works. The Scripture speaks about works in two categories. There are the works of persons which are done in the flesh, and there are the works which are done with the assistance of the Spirit which bring glory to God.
The works of the flesh are mentioned quite frequently in the New Testament. For example, Paul enumerates some of the works of the flesh in Gal_5:19-21, which include adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contention, jealousy, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambition, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, and revelry. He concludes by saying that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal_5:21). Paul also teaches that we are saved by grace through faith and not by our own works (Eph_2:8-9).
The works of the Spirit do not originate with us. They do not come from our lust or flesh; they flow from the Holy Spirit. Paul teaches that we were created to live by such good works (Eph_2:10). In contrast to the works of the flesh, Paul enumerates the works or "fruit" of the Spirit in Gal_5:22 and Gal_5:23, which include love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What a contrast!
Of course, it is the works or fruit of the Spirit to which James refers when relating faith to works. He is not calling us back to live in the flesh nor to try to appease God or win the favor of God with our own works which are done in the flesh. He is instructing us to walk in the Spirit by faith and, as we do, our lives will manifest the works or fruit of the Spirit. Without these deeds of the Spirit, faith is dead.
Now that we have defined faith and works, let us examine the teaching of James regarding the relationship of the two. James proposes three major arguments concerning faith and works and shares at least one practical illustration to substantiate each of his arguments.
1. Our faith must include appropriate works. James' first argument is foundational. His statement is clear. Saving faith must manifest itself in appropriate works. He uses a very sensitive illustration. "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?" (Jas_2:15-16).
It is inconceivable for a person who is walking in the Spirit to say that he has faith if that faith is not translated into appropriate works of the Spirit in reaching out and responding to the needs of a brother or sister. Saving faith responds with the appropriate works of the Spirit.
Recently, I heard a well-known Christian leader relate a story of a conference which he had conducted for lay leaders from a local church. Within the context of a discussion, he asked them how many friends they had in the church whom they could call for help if they encountered an emergency in the middle of the night.
Much to his surprise and dismay, not one single person in a group of some fifty church leaders could identify even one Christian friend whom they could count on in such a situation. How tragic! To those Christian friends, James would say, "You have missed the mark! Genuine faith must include appropriate works—even being available to be awakened in the middle of the night in order to respond to the needs of a brother or sister."
2. Our faith must be accompanied by action. The New English Bible has an excellent translation of the seventeenth verse of chapter 2. "So with faith, if it does not lead to action, it is in itself a lifeless thing."
James has just shared the illustration of the brother and sister who are desperately in need of food. Now he shares two arguments which are a bit more theological in nature. He refutes those who would argue against him by sharing the ultimate spiritual futility of possessing a faith which is not accompanied by appropriate action.
First, he refutes those who say, "You have faith, and I have works." He responds by saying, "Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (Jas_2:18).
Then he shares his ultimate argument by stating, "You believe that there is one God. You do well. The demons also believe—and tremble" (Jas_2:19). In other words, merely believing in the existence of God or even in His mighty power is not adequate for saving faith. Even the demons have that kind of faith. The faith which God requires must be accompanied by appropriate action. To believe in God and to not obey Him is the very essence of sin. It is missing the mark; it is falling short of the glory of God. Our faith must show itself in action.
3. Faith without works is dead. The "bottom line" of the arguments of James is this one which he repeats three times in verses Jas_2:17, Jas_2:20, and Jas_2:26. It is that faith without works is dead. To substantiate his contention, James shares three vivid illustrations.
The first is that of Abraham. His faith was demonstrated when he offered his son, Isaac, on the altar (Jas_2:21). What remarkable works were required of Abraham in order for him to put his faith into action. Indeed, this was "live" faith—not dead! For additional support of his contention, James quotes from Gen_15:6, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Jas_2:21).
The second illustration is that of Rahab the harlot. James contends that she was "also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way" (Jas_2:25). This impelling story is recorded in the second chapter of the Book of Joshua. Rahab sheltered the two spies whom Joshua sent into Jericho.
She saved their lives, and, as a result, she and her family were spared when Jericho was defeated by Joshua and the children of Israel. Even more remarkable is the fact that Rahab is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus found in the first chapter of Matthew. Her faith was not dead; it was demonstrated by good deeds. And she, her family, and her descendants were blessed by her "live" faith—active obedience.
Third, there is an illustration which is not in the form of a biblical story. Instead, James shares a very practical and vivid example. It is simply this, "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (v. Jas_2:26).
What an illustration! A reader may have some difficulty in identifying with Abraham or with Rahab. But everyone can easily understand the difference between a body which is dead in contrast to a person who is alive.
Life is an incredible mystery. Later in his letter, James declares that life is a vapor or mist "that appears for a little time and then vanishes away" (Jas_4:14). Those of us who have watched another person die have been deeply impressed with the validity of his statement.
How profoundly moving is the experience of seeing the spirit of a person depart, leaving only a dead body to remain. The body is but the temporary dwelling place of the real person. When the spirit is absent, life departs and an empty, dead body is left.
That is what James is saying to us. Faith that is only intellectual or cerebral is not enough. It is dead. In the same way, works that are done in the flesh are inadequate. Also, they are dead!
But the Spirit brings life. And works done in the power of the Holy Spirit bring dead faith to life. Abraham and Rahab did not merely talk about faith—they acted it out. They did not only believe in God, they believed what He said and what He promised them. They responded to Him in active obedience. They practiced "live" faith.
Unfortunately, the stench of death hovers over many of our churches and over many of the lives of professing Christians. Often, we have mouthed the correct confessions and mastered the orthodox theology, but our faith has been dead.
Jesus described this dilemma well when He quoted the prophet Isaiah in saying, "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me" (Isa_29:13; Mat_15:8).
There is a solution to this problem. We must move from deadness to life. We must forsake the life of the flesh in order to walk in the Spirit. We must not only believe in God; we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus (Mar_8:34). We must follow Him with active obedience. That is what it means to live by faith. Only when we have this "live" faith can we fulfill the Word of our Lord when He said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Mat_5:16).Click here to edit text
How to Live with Faith and Trials
- Greetings (Jas_1:1)
- How to Profit from Trials (Jas_1:2-4)
- How to Obtain Wisdom (Jas_1:5-8)
- How to Be Rich and Poor (Jas_1:9-11)
- How to Overcome Temptation (Jas_1:12-15)
- How to Receive Good Gifts (Jas_1:16-18)
- How to Communicate (Jas_1:19-21)
- How to Become a Doer (Jas_1:22-25)
- How to Be Authentically Religious (Jas_1:26-27)
Christianity is much more than mere philosophy, theology, or religious teaching. It is a lifestyle based upon a vital relationship with God. He has invited us to love Him with all of our hearts, with all our souls, with all our minds, and with all our strength (Mar_12:30).
He desires for us to not only know about Him, but to know Him personally (1Jn_4:7). We are to allow Jesus Christ to be the vine of our lives, and we are to be the branches (Joh_15:5). Christ asks that we not only receive Him but that we walk in Him and be rooted and built up in Him (Col_2:6-7).
Our relationship with Him is one of great intimacy and utter dependence. We are asked to no longer live for ourselves but rather for Him. We are to be in Christ, and He is to be in us (2Co_5:14-17). In fact, without Him we can do nothing (Joh_11:5). But through Him we can do anything He calls us to do (Php_4:13).
Love is at the very center of this relationship. It was God's love for us which caused Christ to live and die and rise from the dead. He was and is love personified (Rom_5:8). Nothing in all of creation can separate us from Christ's love (Rom_8:35-39). Where Christ is, there is love. His very character is love (1Jn_4:8). Jesus said that it is by this love that His authentic disciples are to be recognized (Joh_13:35). This love must not only be expressed in word or in talk, but it must be expressed in action, in deed and in truth (1Jn_3:18). Therefore, love is not an option for the Christian; love is at the very center of his or her lifestyle. And so are the other qualities of the "fruit of the Spirit" at the center of the Christian's life, including joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal_5:22-23).
Love, and all of the other fruit of the Spirit, must be lived out in daily lifestyle. Possession is more than mere profession; authentic Christianity is practical. That is what the Book of James is all about. James helps us understand "how to" live the Christian life.
He helps us to move from the place of merely possessing intellectual belief in Christ to the joy of knowing Him personally and following Him daily. Too often the church has merely told people that they "should" live for God or that they "must" do what is right. James moves beyond mere moralizing to teach us "how to" follow Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives. His teaching is both practical and workable; his style is "show and tell." He tells us and shows us "how to" do it.
James is concerned with the matter of faith. For him, faith is not merely something which is believed; faith is something we do. It must be lived—in active obedience. The focus of his direct teaching regarding faith is found in the second chapter of his letter. However, the emphasis is found throughout the book beginning with the first chapter which focuses upon how to live with faith and trials.
As we have seen in our introductory study, James identifies himself not as a brother of Jesus Christ, nor as a leader of the church, but rather as a servant of God and a servant of Jesus Christ. I believe that his identification is more than mere literary style. He is writing with a true Christian perspective of leadership.
James understands who he is and who the people of God are within the Christian family. His style is one of love and humility. Other leaders of the early church used a similar greeting in their epistles, such as Paul (Php_1:1) and Peter (2Pe_1:1).
James understood that his highest calling, and therefore his most accurate identification of his position, was that of a servant. Peter presents that teaching in a powerful manner as he addresses his "fellow elders" concerning the Christian style of leadership (1Pe_5:1-4). He is expounding the basic teaching of Jesus regarding the vital matter of servant leadership (Mat_20:20-28).
Jesus taught clearly that the leaders of His kingdom did not "lord over" or dominate others. Instead, the one who is the greatest in the kingdom of God is the one who is the servant of all (Mat_20:26). This is the understanding and conviction of James. He seeks to be the servant of God's people wherever they may be.
Our introductory study has shown us that James is writing to a scattered church often referred to as the Diaspora—those Christians who were dispersed throughout the Roman world as a result of severe persecution.
His reference to the twelve tribes appears to be a symbolic description of the scattered people of the New Covenant as opposed to the twelve tribes of Israel of the first covenant. These twelve tribes are the New Covenant people of the Church of Jesus Christ.
The simple word translated as "greetings" from James is the Greek word chaı́rein, which was used often in letters of that day. Although Paul and the other New Testament writers did not use it, the Jerusalem church used it in their letter to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia (Act_15:23).
In summary, James writes as a humble servant of Christ and His church to fellow believers who are scattered throughout the Roman world by persecution for their faith. These are people who have a deep faith in Jesus Christ. James writes to give them practical counsel regarding how they can follow Christ as the Lord of their lives even more effectively.
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