The text today explains the dilemma of faith and its relationship with action. When we say we have faith, but do nothing to show it, we are equal with the devil. Wow! Can you imagine? When you and I claim we have faith in God, but we do not put action to that faith, James would say our faith is not complete.
The Epistle of James is an interesting text in that it mirrors many of Jesus’ sayings the Gospel of Matthew. James teaches us that our faith is dead, just like the Pharisee and the Sadducee belief in God. Last week we sang a children’s song about being sheep – but not Pharisee, Sadducee, or Goats. To be sure when we put our faith into action we are doing what Jesus taught his disciples.
Our faith is a dead sect it we do not respond to the needs of others. Over the years I’ve heard people complain about the poor who cheat and deceive others. But how can we expect others who do not know Jesus to be anything less than sinful? True faith leads us to give sacrificially to others. True faith leads us to friendship with God. True faith causes us to live our lives in such a way that others see our faith in action as a witness to Almighty God. Our lives become a living documentary about God in our lives.
Who is Brother James?
Written in the early to mid AD40s. He was martyred in AD62. Addressed to anyone who is not in Palestine/Judea particularly the covenant people of God. Luther calls it a “strawy” epistle. James understood that Jesus put his beliefs into practice by walking around, inviting people into conversations about their beliefs in God, teaching friends how to pray, and living his faith from the inside out.
- James 1.1 – Greetings to the church from James (the Brother of Jesus)
- Mk 3.21, Jn 7.5 – James is an unbeliever
- Acts 1.14 – James mentioned among the disciples
- Acts 15.13 – James addressed the church at Jerusalem w/authority
- Acts 21.18 – James considered elder of the church at Jerusalem
- 1 Cor. 15.7 – James witness to the risen Christ and singled out for at the resurrection appearance
- Gal 1.19 – Paul met and considered James an apostle
- Gal 2.12 – Paul has conflict with “certain men from James” because of his faith practices
Faith is not measurable by the outward appearances. Do not oppress people because of their riches or poverty. Be careful not to blaspheme the name of Jesus. Love others as you would desire to be loved – respect them, don’t judge them based on your own thinking. Use the commandments as a guide for right behavior but don’t stop there. Allow God to transform your thinking processes to reflect his heart of love for others.
Even the devil has good theology, but his actions reveal his true nature. Let your actions reveal your true nature. Abraham believed God in his heart, but his actions showed God his commitment and earned him the right to be a friend of God. In the same way Rahab believed in the God of Caleb and Joshua, but her actions proved her loyalties toward God and his people. For us today we must not only believe but put our faith into actions as we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. For Abraham and Rahab did not create their own way of believing but responded to God’s grace.
If we were to apply Wesley’s grace to this dilemma, we would note that salvation only begins with justification – believing in Jesus, but requires sanctifying action that secures our relationship with God in friendship. What good is a friend who never takes action in that friendship?
James 2.1-9: Relationship Building
Relationships and leadership cannot be divorced. We love people regardless of who they are or what they can do. Love is a decision, not a reaction. We love people. We honor people with their gifts and talents by affirming them in their gifts and promoting them in their talents. Recognition of people helps them feel that their contributions matter.
James 2.1-26: Servanthood Actions
James reminds us that we all need to serve others. Commitment is more than lip service, but life lived from the inside out. This text is loaded with illustrations of servanthood: the selfish motives of the rich/poor, the legalistic rule follower, the cheap lifestyle of a hypocrite, and the foolish thinker who believed in his head but nothing more. Even demons have right theology, but wrong actions. Add to that two Old Testament characters: Abraham and Rahab. These illustrations help make us aware of misappropriated grace.
James 2.24-26: Brother James, Leader
Godly leaders challenge us to embrace a faith that leads us beyond mere mental assent. Faith needs to be more than words. Godly leaders challenge us to examine our faith to taste the fruit of our testimony.
The History of Missions in Methodism
Kenneth Kinghorn in his book entitled The Heritage of American Methodism, says, “By the 1760s Methodism had found its way into North America through the ministries of two lay preachers who had experienced Christian conversion under Methodist preaching in their native Ireland” (Kinghorn, 14). By 1768 a layperson named John Taylor wrote to John Wesley to send qualified preachers to aid this new congregation that had formed. Taylor was desperate enough to declare, “With respect to the money for passage over… we would sell our coats and shirts and pay it” (Kinghorn, 14).
From 1769-1774 Wesley sent 12 British Methodist preachers to America. In 1784 Wesley ordained Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey, then later sent Thomas Coke as the first superintendent/bishop. In 1784 the American Methodist officially organized themselves into a new denomination. At the Christmas conference of 1784 Coke, along with Whatcoat and Vasey, ordained Francis Asbury to join him as co-bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church (Kinghorn, 47).
John Wesley’s greatest fear of the Methodist movement was this, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe of America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out” (Kinghorn, 49).
Think. Talk. Then take a walk.
True faith leads us to sacrificial life action – giving of self. True faith results in friendship with God. Christ died to bestow upon us the great commission (Matt. 28.18-20). We are to take up our cross daily and die. The whole of James rests on the concepts he writes about in the first chapter: the threat of being double-minded. When we think about the way we think about our problems, they often drive us in different directions like an ocean tide waves about with the current and winds. We are called to stand, not be driven about by the waves of change and problems in our lives. John Wesley would be proud if lived out your faith in holiness of heart and life! Will you join me at the altar on bended knee? It all begins with a change of heart!