Category Archives: James

Sins of the tongue

What would the sins of the tongue be? Do you think of lying, slander, gossip, or abusive language? Yes, most of us would think about these things, but what about silence? I think most of us would consider misuse of the tongue to be a sin of speech, but sometimes it is a sin of silence.  You can listen to a sermon on this topic by clicking here. Yet, if you don’t have time to do that, you may read some highlights below.

sin of silenceWe should not be silent when…

1. We can help others by saying something.

The lepers in 2 Kings 7 found that the army afflicting the city had left suddenly without taking anything. They ate, they drank and then went and hid clothing, gold and silver. However, they soon came to their senses and realized that what they were doing in remaining silent was not a good thing, so they went and told the king.

Esther was warned that if she kept silent at the time her people needed her that God would deliver the Jews anyway but her house would not escape.

Sometimes fear causes us to not speak up.  We fear people won’t understand, we fear they will not listen, sometimes (such as in the case of correcting sin in their life) we fear rebuke from them even as we try to help. Still, we need to help.

2. Our actions were not good ones.

When Adam sinned in the garden and afterward heard the Lord walking in the Garden, he did not speak, he hid. Only when God called out searching for him, did Adam speak. When the disciples were arguing on the journey about which of them was the greatest in the Kingdom of God (Mark 9), Jesus asked them what they were discussing, but they remained silent.

When our actions are not right, silence is the last thing we should keep.  Adam should have ran to God for help. The disciples should have owned their petty conversation. We should confess those wrongs and look for forgiveness, whether from God or from a brother whom we have offended not remain silent as if it makes the wrong go away.

3. When your brother offends you.

One clear principle in Scripture deals with the times in which we are offended. Some have no problem letting a brother know that they have crossed a line (sometimes it is done too harshly) but most of us, seeking to avoid conflict fail to let a brother know when he has done so.

Silence in these cases can lead to grudges, strained relationships, and according to Leviticus 19:16-17 slander and gossip are not so far behind.

4. When God needs to be praised.

I would suggest that all of our words should praise God. Of all of God’s creations, mankind is the only one that does not praise its Creator all the time and in all ways.  Jesus said that if his disciples did not speak out, the stones would have cried out praising Him as He entered Jerusalem. It is right and normal and natural for us to praise God.

We need to praise God and not be silent when people put down spiritual things; ridicule Christians, Jesus, or God; or try to intimidate us into silence by threats or fear. We should be as the Apostles were: Speaking out and praising God that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name. (Acts 5)

Ecclesiastes 3:7 says there is a time to speak and a time to keep silent. May God grant you courage and wisdom to know when you should do each.

Question: What other times do we fail to speak up when we should?

Love is not irritable

Another version of the same passage says that Love is not easily provoked. I don’t think there is one of us with an older or younger sibling, who does not understand the meaning of the word “provoked”. Either we were the provoker or the victim! Hopefully, as we grew older, in most cases, that type of early childhood provocation died away.

Yet, we know people today, adults, who will, with the slightest hint of provocation, unleash a whole barrage of anger. They then turn around and say “YOU make me so angry” or “That’s the way I am”. Some even blame their heritage or hair-itage. “I am Irish” or “I have red hair”, they say.

Love does not rush to wrath. In fact, if we were to follow the advice James offers us: be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath, we might avoid a lot of problems in our own lives and create fewer difficulites in the lives of others.

James says that the “wrath of man” does not work the righteousness of God. Perhaps I am incorrect, but in the context of James, I think he contrasts “man’s wrath and will” with “God’s will” and implies God’s wrath is different.

We understand that God does show wrath but after how long of a time? The patience he showed while the ark was being built, while the sin of the Ammorites increased, with Nineveh during the days of Jonah, with Israel….all through their existence, teaches us two things very clearly. God’s wrath is slow in coming and is not something you want to experience.

Love does not allow the little things to provoke it. Love is bigger than the petty things that those who have not learned to love are interested in. Love will show wrath at appropriate times but the childish provocations of children and worldly people are not the times to let loose.

Can you imagine if Jesus had displayed the wrath of man?

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1Pe 2:22-23)

How would the righteousness of God (Romans 1:16-17) been shown, if Jesus had been so easily provoked! (I hasten to add, that I speak in hyperbole when I say “easily provoked”, He showed remarkable constraint) What if He had called those 12 legions of angels? Where would the Gospel be?

Question: What causes you to get angry the quickest? Is that trigger mechanism something you have prayed to God about?

Photo Credit: Matt Erasmus

Put down the sin and back away!

** I am going to repost some of my earlier blogs from the blog study I did through James. I will probably do this for the next five to six posts. I hope you enjoy them as many of my current readers were not with me when I put these out. There may be some slight edits but essentially they will be the same.***

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  (Jas 1:21 ESV)

When ever you see the word “therefore” you should look and see what it is there for! And sure enough, this therefore is there for a reason. It concludes a thought that James is expressing and brings to close an argument (or at least a portion of it) that he has been making.  Because we are responsible for our own temptations and sins and God is the one who is giving us all of the good gifts, especially being born again into his family, we need to stop! Listen! and realize that our anger at our perceptions of reality (which are not the way things really are) is messed up. So….

We should put away something and receive something that will benefit us.

That which we are to put away is all of the filthiness and rampant wickedness in our lives. Wait! What is that? Filth and wickedness?  Isn’t James talking to Christians who had been washed in the blood of Jesus? Cleansed from their old sins? How can they have filth and wickedness? Sure, a little sin once in a while (everyone does) but “filth” is such a …well, it is such a filthy word! Don’t even get me started on wickedness. Contrary to the popular usage (or the little note of encouragement that WordPress gave me at post 14 “Wicked!”) it is not a compliment.

James is not the first person to address this issue and every Christian realizes that from about 5 minutes after coming up out of the grave, sin is still a possibility. We are not mechanically prevented from sinning. Paul dealt with it in Romans 6 and told those Christians that they could not live in sin any longer.  In this context though, the filthiness and wickedness would be attributable to a life that was not lived in faith and, worse yet, one that blamed God for the situation.  You can see now perhaps why James goes on from here to give so much good practical advice to his audience on how to live a life of faith and the many actions that will show that you live a life of faith.

I like the phrase ‘put away’. It is used in several meanings. 

  1. To put in its proper spot. “Would you put the trash away please.”
  2. To incarcerate. “The judge put him away for 1000 years.”
  3. To be victorious over. “He put him away with that final shot”

In either case, the understanding should be to remove that stuff out of your life because it does not belong there.

To contrast the putting away and removal of filth and wickedness, James says you are to receive something. In this case, the implanted word.

How you are to receive it is very important: with meekness. As I have heard all my life, “meek doesn’t mean weak” but we still tend to think of it that way. Actually, meek has more to do with the control of strength not  the absence of strength. A meek horse is still a powerful animal but, rather than flexing his muscles and running away with or bucking off the rider, he permits the rider to be there. We also need to permit the word that God has implanted to be there. To fight against it and to tear it out is not good for us.

Jesus spreading seedThe illustration reminds me of the parable of the sower. In that parable, the seed was also the word of God and it fell on four soils. These have already proven themselves not to be the hard soil and probably not the rocky soil. Judging by James’ book, I think he was concerned that they may be the thorny soil. When the word is implanted into the soil (our hearts) if we receive it with meekness, it is able to save our souls. If we do not, well… it cannot do its job.

James is going to expand on this thought in the next few verses. What we need to consider, as we read the word, is are we receiving the word with meekness or trying to remake it into our own image and plans? One last cliché to close. We have seen those bumper stickers that say “God is my co-pilot”. While the thought is nice, I would suggest that God should be the pilot!  Let’s meekly let God direct us in His paths.

Question: How hard is it for you to back away from sin and meekly accept only God’s word?

The tongue is a fire

 How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.  (Jas 3:5-8)  

Forest fires are started with very small fires. It doesn’t take a lot to ignite fuel that is there and in some cases fuel is not prone to burn. Fire is an interesting entity.  I do not have the experience of being a fire fighter but I am told that fire creates its own weather. Things change inside of a fire and even once it appears to be out, it can flair up again.  

Understanding that it doesn’t take much to get a forest fire going helps us understand James’ metaphor (or is it an “analogy”) that the tongue is a fire. The ability of the tongue to set ablaze a great ‘forest’ is not one that we have to much doubt about. Experience itself, will confirm by the time you are 12 that if you use your tongue for gossip or slander that you can create a whole world of hurt, not just for yourself but for others.  

Gossip can stir up many problems and even separate the best of friends. (Prov 16:28) Those that gossip become involved in saying things that they ought not to say. (I tim 5:13) The trouble with Gossip is that it is so hard to define. “But it’s true!” says the Gossip. However, “true” doesn’t make it “not gossip” nor does it make it tame. Great problems are caused that way.  

James says the tongue is a world of unrighteousness. A “world” of unrighteousness! Think about that. In Matthew 15:18-20 shows us that the mouth pulls things out of our heart. That heart, is ours, no one can ‘see’ it (save God) and within that heart exist all sorts of things: evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies. That is quite a list!  If it is true that each mind is a world, then James has just said ours is full of unrighteousness.  

I should note that I don’t think that James is saying that our world is totally filled with unrighteous, obviously being washing in Christ sanctifies us, but as we all know, the temptations still continue, originating from our own desires and we better not use our tongue to say “God is tempting me.”  (1:13f) It is when the tongue is not managed that we create the largest problems.  

James also says that the tongue is set on fire by Hell. I think James is using this, also as a metaphor for the temptations that we face; temptations that we properly associate with demons.  How many times have we spoken out of wrath or envy or pride? More times than I care to count!  

Controlling the tongue is not an easy thing to do. In fact, we have better luck taming wild animals that can tear us limb from limb than we do the tongue which can cut a person to shreds in a moment! Once said, it can’t be taken back. The poison that a tongue can unleash will spread and not only creates enemies but destroys friendships.

 When I think about the tongue of man, I can’t help but compare it to the tongue of God. God spoke and the world came into existence. Our words also create a world. When you speak well to friends, spouses, family your world is at peace, when you don’t…Well, we have all seen THAT family!  

Question: In regards to Gossip, does anyone have a good definition that they like?

A dead faith.

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  (Jas 2:15-17)               

 To answer the question that James put forth in verse 14, he postulates this hypothetical situation.

Let’s not argue whether ‘naked’ means ‘nude’ or ‘just not enough’, the situation that James is painting is of a brother or sister who has a need, not a want! 

taken from ubdavid.org

Then this wonderful brother with faith, seeing the need, is naturally concerned with the plight of the needy brother. He says “I hope that you get things worked out, I hope that you are warmed and filled.” Did you catch it? The emphasis?  ‘says’, not “does.”

While talk, as in counseling and encouragement can help, in this case, talk is cheap. Well wishes do not help!  Does such speech clothe the brother? Does it feed the sister? The answer is an obvious “NO!”  Confident that his readers will understand his point, he concludes “so also…” (in the same way) a faith that exists by itself, separate from works, is dead.

Dead faith!

Think about that. What is a dead faith? One that doesn’t act? In James’ words, “one that does not have works.” Worse, it is one that cannot save!

 I am always amazed at the way the Bible ties things together. James has just talked about love which he ties to the treatment of widows, orphans, and the poor brother. And now he talks about the faith of an individual in showing that love. It has to act. Then he goes on to talk about needs.

Notice that James did not say if you see a brother or sister who can’t pay their cable bill, their leased car payment, doesn’t have a new iPhone or PlayStation. No, he talks about food and clothing.  Paul said in I Tim 6:8 “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. Jesus mentioned Food and Clothing in Matthew 6:25-34.

It is a world of difference between providing needs and wants. I would say that needs are an obligation of the Christian whereas wants are in the category of grace. If you can, and if you want to, you may provide the wants of another Christian or someone else for that matter. But if you can and if you see the need, you are obligated to provide the needs. (Perhaps you don’t by yourself but you still take care of it)

If you do that, you show faith. And your faith lives:

 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  (1Jn 3:17)  

As I discussed in our last post, so many think that not earning your salvation is the same thing as not needing to do anything once you have it.  Oh, they may not ‘say’ that but their actions betray it.  They are very different concepts. God choose to offer his grace, we obey the Gospel and now we are obligated to live a certain way. Even so, he gives more grace (later on in James) to the humble.  

What conclusions do you draw from this so far? Can faith that saves exist apart from works? Do you have works that show your faith. If you are still not convinced, James will continue to talk about this….

The Royal Law

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.  (Jas 2:8)

While keeping the verse in the context is one thing, the statement is true when you take it outside of James as well. So I wanted to share with you a couple of thoughts about this verse. The Royal Law, as James calls it, is also the 2nd greatest commandment. Looking to Matthew 22:36-40 we read this:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Mat 22:36-40)

Would it be too outrageous of a suggestion to say that if you don’t DO the 2nd commandment that you cannot fulfill the 1st? I am going to suggest just that.

It is easy to say “I love God” but what about your neighbor? Throughout this book James will make a point of the relationship we have to our brothers in the Lord. His points are not new, nor are they unique to him. John also said:

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
(1Jn 4:20-21)

The Pharisees had a means of invalidating God’s commands by their traditions. Mt 15 talks about Corban and Jesus rebukes them for it.

Basically the argument goes like this: “God is so worthy of all my love and attention and focus that I am just not able to show the love and attention to my parents or brother that I otherwise would. I would like to, really I would, but God is first in my life. You understand!”

The problem is that since God made man in his image that we should not think that showing ‘not love’ is acceptable. Consider the relationships we have with our spouses. Do you treat their family and friends with disdain? Do you show ‘not love’ to these important individuals in their life? Do you do that and then claim to you love your spouse? It doesn’t work like that.

So when James uses the Royal law or the 2nd greatest commandment here, it is a deliberate thing. Listen my beloved brethren, if you think for one second that you can get away with loving God and not love your neighbor, you are sadly mistaken. If you want to say that you are loving God, not only do you have to listen to him and do his will, you need to show love to your brother.

Living by the Royal law-Part one

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
(Jas 2:8-13)

Maybe James is expecting some protesting from his audience. Maybe he expects them to say that they are not showing partiality, that James misunderstands. They might protest “Custom or respect requires some special treatment for the rich person.” As I said in my last post, if the President were to visit, you could welcome him saying “Mr. President….” and this would be respectful of the position.   But, to fawn over him because of his influence or the prestige of having him in your congregation is something James would have us guard against, especially when another brother of lower estate is shuffled off to the overflow seating….why not give him your seat next to the President?

Anyway, James says “Well, if you really are doing the royal law, then good” however, he doesn’t drop it there. Recognizing that this audience might not be letting his words sink in, that is, they are not being “swift to hear, slow to speak”, he still adds the warning: If you show partiality, it is a sin and the Law tells you the same thing.

Which law you have to ask? Which law indeed? The law of Christ or of Moses? In this case, (though I think he refers to Moses’ law) the two overlap. The 2nd greatest commandment that Jesus talked about with the Pharisees is the Royal Law that James mentions and under either law, when you do not show the love for your neighbor that you would show for yourself, you sin. Showing partiality is a sin in God’s eyes.

Peter had this problem and Paul rebuked him in Gal 2. It was the judgment of some Jewish Christians that Gentiles should not be eaten with. When they showed up, Peter got caught up in it and then so did Barnabas. Barnabas!  Even the son encouragement (cf Acts 4:36) was drawn into a less than encouraging situation.

James indicates that no mercy was being shown to the poor brother. Instead evil thoughts and judgment dishonored him. However, the problem with the dishonored brother is not just a problem for the poor brother. (Hopefully he will look past it and boast in his exaltation. James 1:9) There is now a problem for the judge, the brother showing partiality; he is now condemned and condemned as a lawbreaker. Worse, he showed no mercy to his brother, what mercy should he expect from God?

Lord willing, We shall continue this thought tomorrow…..

Pure religion

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
(Jas 1:27 ESV)

Of all the ideas about what is good religion, James throws this into the mix. But rather than adding to an already large list of things to do, James seems to indicate that this IS the list. Can you imagine that? Just three things to do and you are good with God! In the context of this passage, James is clearly telling his audience (who thinks that they are all fine and dandy with God) that their faith is in need of a reevaluation.

This is not a reevaluation of the Faith. No, that has been, as Jude says, once and for all delivered to the saints (v. 3). It is a reevaluation of  their understanding of what it is and, therefore, their response (actions) to it.  The Faith that is the Gospel, tells us Jesus died, was buried, and rose again and it does not change. The action that people have toward that faith does change. James says ‘hearing only”…will not do. Not bridling the tongue, that will not do. Blaming God for our temptations, that will not do. Etc.

But James once again, in saying  ‘NO” has directed their mind toward what is “Yes” and given them the positive to focus on. Let me tell you what IS pure and undefiled religion (contrasted with vain religion in the preceding verse).

First, we take note of whose standard it is: God, the Father’s. So many, in deciding what they will do to serve God make decisions based on their own think so. They do not wait and listen for what God wants. David illustrates wanting to do something for God (build a house for God) and yet that was not what God wanted from David. God does have a view on what is acceptable and what is not. (Amos 5:21-24) James is going to tell us what it is.

Second, we take note of who we are to help. When we read “orphans and widows”, we understand those who are in need and unable to help themselves. There may be others we can put in this group but, generally speaking, those without parents to tend to them or family to support them are to be taken care of and helped. But, to rephrase the question: “who is my neighbor?”, let me ask “Which orphans and widows?” Times are different  these days. At least, I imagine that they are.

James would not have been writing to people familiar with world-wide hunger relief programs and such which we have today. Sally Struthers didn’t do PSA spots on TV  about the need in Africa. Sending money to these organizations (the good ones) is great. However, there is more included in the word “visit’ than just money. It would have been, to those in James’ audience, more likely that he was referring to those orphans and widows in the church first, and then, those in the community where they lived.

When you KNOW a person in need and can learn of their need and help supply that first and then, perhaps, some of their want, that is truly a visit.

I think that most everything that you do for others will either be a spending of time, money (what we possess) , or both. I don’t know what we can do that affects lives that does not involve one of those two things. I would suggest that we purpose to help those in need. We may set aside money but setting aside time to rake leaves, shovel snow, or repair a leaky faucet can be a ‘visit’ too. Money? small amount for a shovel, rake or faucet washers. Time? depends on how fast you work. Benefit: priceless.

Helping the needy does not extend to those who can help themselves. While I know that many will draw that line of ‘who can help themselves’ at different locations, if a person can work, he should work. That is what God has assigned to us in this life. Work is a gift of God.  A good book to read on this would be Boundaries by Henry Cloud.

hands stainedThird, we take note of our own lives in purity. James also says to be unstained from the world. This could refer to philosophies in the world or pleasures of the world. Being the friend of the world is to be an enemy of God. In this one phrase, he upholds the ideal that Christians who have died to Christ no longer can live in sin. (cf Rom 6) Not that we cannot sin but that we do not live in it. If the blood of Jesus washes us from our sins as we walk in the light, then by walking in the light there will be no stain.

James is going to tell his audience more about how a faith in Jesus will be reflected in life actions. Just stay tuned.

Treat your tongue like a horse: Bridle it!

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
(Jas 1:26)

Even though we are looking at this book slowly, one verse or two at a time, the larger context cannot be forgotten. In the book of James, this is not the first time, nor that last, that he counsels on the speech of a Christian. Here, it is very definite, that he is taking seriously the connection between what a person says and the worth of his religion. A person can THINK that he is religious and still have that religion be worthless based on how he speaks.

In Matthew 6, Jesus said that the prayers (speaking) of the Pharisees were of no value in their relationship to God. In fact, one parable (Luke 18) in the NKJV the Pharisee is said to pray ‘thus with himself” and while the context means that he was standing off by himself, the joining of those words can leave the impression that he prayed by himself, to himself and not really to God.  Worthless speech indeed. He also in Matthew 6 warns against empty phrases or vain repetitions which the Gentiles use.

James talks about an unbridled tongue and if you look back to the preceding verses we again might see some examples of when a tongue needs to be bridled:

  • Asking of God, but in faith, according to His will v5
  • Poor brothers who need to boast in exhalation v9
  • Rich brothers who need to boast in humiliation v10
  • During temptations-so that he doesn’t say “I am tempted by God” v13
  • As he hears the word that can save his soul-so that he doesn’t erupt in anger v 19

In addition to the previous verses in which speech is indicated or implied, James will have much more to say on the use of the tongue starting in chapter 3.

We see then, that while James has illustrated in verses 22-25 that actions (hearing with the doing) are important, speech is equally so.  We might not think of speech as important but it is also type of action. A person’s speech can invalidate his religion. Again, James says “do not be deceived” and isn’t that just the way with us. We fall so easily into a ‘that’s not so bad’ mentality.

This has to go beyond taking the Lord’s name in vain. Or, maybe we don’t understand what a vain use of God’s name is. We all recognize that profanity with the name of the Lord is wrong. However, I would suggest to you that calling out to God in an unserious way is just as bad. I refer, of course, to those who, in their excitement use ‘God’ as if it some expression of Joy.

While it could be an expression of joy (cf  Jn. 20:28), it is not the meaning given when someone shouts out “Oh my–” or abbreviates it “OM-!” in a text message.

Bridling the tongue in both sad times and joyous times is still an essential part of the Christian life. While we DO things that let our faith shine forth, we also need to SPEAK in a way that lets our faith shine forth. Hebrews 11:14 says that there is a speech that let’s people know we belong to the world above. I would also suggest that “Lord willing” is a good phrase that should grace the Christian’s tongue quiet often.

Let us not speak lies or half-truths, let us be kind in our words and not cutting with clever phrases. Let there be no filthiness or foolish talking, or crude jokes, or innuendos but rather let there thanksgiving. (see Eph 5:1-6) I once had a roommate who, while professing to be a Christian (God knows if he was) insisted in using what he called ‘Man language’ (as opposed to the innocent language of boys).  I reject that premise. I think James would too.

Cursing men and praising God with the same tongue? My brethren, these things ought not to be so.

Be a doer too!

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (Jas 1:23-25 ESV)

In the previous post we paid attention to the thoughts of looking at the natural face in the mirror in verses 23 and 24.  The expectation is, that if you look into a mirror, you will correct what needs to be corrected. Why look in a mirror otherwise?

Have you ever had your mother ask: Did you look in the mirror? She doesn’t mean: “Did you only look in the mirror?” Nope. She means, ‘If you had looked in the mirror, you would not have failed to correct what I can see needs to be corrected, so go back, look, and correct it!”  (Mothers have a way of putting a lot of meaning in one short question.) James’ point likewise is: Those that hear but don’t do are like those who see in a mirror but do not do (correct) what needs to be done (corrected).

In today’s post, with the word “but” in verse 25, James is going to change his subject. Instead of the person who hears and does not do, he is now going to talk about the person who hears and does. This person also examines himself and his mirror is the perfect law, the law of liberty.

Anytime you bring the word “law” into a conversation on spiritual things, there is always the risk of misunderstanding. It seems strange, at first, that James would suggest that one who perseveres in the law will be blessed, yet that is exactly what he says.  I will offer a brief note on this with the realization that, in one short post, it will not be possible to cover every angle of this topic.

It is my understanding though, that as James qualifies it, he calls it  the law of liberty. How does this law differ from other law, say the law of Moses? First, if we divide the Law of Moses into two broad categories, we have the ceremonial law and the moral law.  We understand that the ceremonies, most of which pointed to Jesus, our ultimate sacrifice, have gone away. However, I think we also understand that the moral laws regarding murder, lust, brotherly love, godliness have not gone away at all, nor could they.

The moral standards are still the aim of every Christian. Still, we have not kept, nor does it seem we are able to keep, a law where the standard is  “perfection or death”.  The Liberty comes in Christ, whose blood cleanses us from our sins. We are not condemned for imperfection in keeping the law; we are liberated from the consequence of imperfection.  So, since we don’t have to be perfect in it, can we then just not do the things we ought? Paul answers that in chapter 6 of Romans: God forbid!

So the persevering is something James wants these Christians to do. Paul’s illustration of a runner running for a prize shows perseverance and if you have ever done a 5k or marathon run, you know place that perseverance plays. James seems to link in this verse the idea of persevere with ‘hearing and doing’. As if to say, I am defining a perseverer in this way: One who hears and does.

Finally the reward: Those who persevere, that is, hear and do, will be blessed in what they do. Read Psalms 1:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psa 1:1-3 ESV)

David describes one whose delight and meditation (more than a casual consideration) are in the law of the Lord. He says this person will be prospered in what he does. Sounds a lot like what James is saying.  The message should be clear: Hear the word of the Lord, Do the word of the Lord and you will be blessed.

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