The book of James is my favorite book of the Bible.
My loving brother, who makes fun of me for not reading that much or that fast, would probably tell you that it’s because James is fairly short at only five chapters. But that’s not it.
I love the voice James uses throughout his book. A potentially dorky thing to say, but hear me out. I’ve found that every translation of James I’ve read (which, granted, isn’t many) James’ overall tone is very wise yet sassy in places. He sounds like a man who knows what he’s talking about because he’s experienced a lot. He’s passing on his knowledge in a direct way that the common man would understand. In some ways, reading James reminds me of sitting down and listening to a cool, older man talk – someone like my dad or a few Philosophy and Religion professors I had in college. And I find it amazing that the tone has managed to endure and transcend so many translations. It says something marvelous about how James originally wrote it and what he originally wrote.
I could list all the verses I like out of James, but it’d be easier on both of us if you just read the entire book. I’ll give you my top three favorite parts of James. James 1:17 is just beautiful imagery regardless of what translation I read it in. As I’ve discussed before, I have a history of letting my words get me in trouble, and James has some great things to say about that. Finally, James talks about proving your faith through actions, which is very important.
James 2:14-20 (NLT) says, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’ – but you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, ‘Some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.’ You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?”
I’ve heard this scripture used to argue that salvation can be earned through actions, but that’s not what James is getting at here. James is not saying that doing good things creates faith; he’s saying that doing good things is a product of having faith. People don’t volunteer at a soup kitchen and wake up the next morning a Christian because of it. However, someone might choose to demonstrate their faith that way. (It’s not to say that all people who do good things are Christians. I’ve met loving Atheists, kind Buddhists, and good-hearted Muslims. While good deeds are a vehicle to demonstrate faith, that’s not their exclusive function. One can be a good person yet not be a Christian.)
James seems pretty adamant that faith without works is useless and/or dead. He says it a couple of times in this scripture. And he makes a very compelling argument. If I was cold and hungry and someone said, “See ya! Oh, and good luck!” I wouldn’t say, “Wait! What’s your belief system? I want to follow it.”
We hear it so much, but it’s the truth: the world kind of sucks. If our actions don’t stand out in a positive way from everything else that’s happening, God’s not in it, which implies that our faith is terrible or nonexistent.
Claiming something and proving it are extremely different.
It may sound odd, but we prove our love for God and our faith in Him by our service to others. I could quote verse after verse from the Bible where Jesus or God or someone else says to love others, to be kind to them, to help people out. But for the sake of time and space, I’ll leave you to look those up on your own if you so wish. So when we serve others, we’re obeying God, which is cool and is a priority. The great thing about service is that it’s more than obedience and us just being nice. It’s an opportunity for others to see God in us.
If I were to see someone doing something fantastic for people out of nothing but the love in his or her heart, I would want to find out what the source of that love is.
Sunday, Alan said, “How I serve and love is a direct reflection of what Jesus has done for me.”
It called to mind another scripture that I’m rather fond of. In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is invited to eat dinner with a Pharisee, and Jesus takes up the offer. He goes to the guy’s house and eats. This woman with a not-so-spotless reputation finds out and joins the party. She kneels down, washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair, showers His feet with kisses, and puts some expensive perfume on His feet as well.
Of course, that gets the Pharisee’s robes in a bunch. He mumbles under his breath, “If this man was who He says He is, He’d know who was touching Him!”
Jesus tells the Pharisee a story of two people who each owed a guy money, one 500 pieces of silver and the other 50. Neither of them could pay him back, so he cancelled the debts (I wish the government would have such mercy on me with my student loans). So Jesus asks, “Who do you think loved him more?”
The Pharisee responds, “I guess the one who owed the most.”
Jesus tells the Pharisee that he’s right and proceeds to point out every gift and courtesy that the woman at His feet gave Him that the Pharisee didn’t. In verse 47, Jesus says, “I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love” (NLT).
Consider how much love God has shown you. Now consider the love you’re showing God and others. Are you frugal with your love, time, and efforts or are you giving them freely and, if possible, lavishly?
God is a God who gives back, who’ll fill you up to the point of spilling over. If you give love, God will give it back to you with interest. So you’ll be able to give even more and grow. And the more love that’s going around, the better off the world will be.
By Carrie Prevette