Greetings Summit Family!
Yesterday, we received the good news that God’s law, which is perfect because it reveals the character of God, is also the law that safeguards our freedom as we become obedient to it. With the encouragement to reflect the character of God in our lives, James continues instructing his reader on the process we should follow as we achieve a mature/ complete faith.
He ends chapter one with this encouragement: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:26-27)
James is drawing a contrast between those who are “religious” and those who are genuine children of God. He has taken us on an exciting journey so far. He has reminded us of the various trials we will face in life. He has drawn our attention to the necessity of persevering through those trials with wisdom. He has reminded us that God will give us wisdom generously. He has provided several life-situation examples, challenging us to exercise wisdom in every situation: life’s financial circumstances, temptation, serving as God’s first-fruits, being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry.
Each of those has enlightened his reader to the necessity of allowing God’s Word, which includes His perfect law, to become implanted into their hearts and minds so that they have the freedom to live a full life, blessed in all they do. That full life comes as a result of their obedience to God.
It is interesting that James ends chapter one by referencing people who describe themselves as being religious. In our world today, we are quick to draw a comparison between “religion” and “a personal relationship” when defining Christianity. We submit that being a Christian is not about religion but a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. That is the same conclusion James wants his readers to accept.
If we have received God’s perfect law and are enjoying the freedom of being obedient to that law, it will influence every aspect of our lives. There are three things we will automatically do if we have a mature faith:
•We will control our tongue – “keeping a tight reign on their tongues.”
•We will have a genuine heart for ministering to the needy – “looking after widows and orphans in their distress.”
•We will maintain a commitment to personal holiness – “keeping oneself from being polluted by the world.”
One would imagine the list could have been much longer than the one James provides. However, if we place his letter in context with the world his recipients were living at that time, this list speaks volumes.
Christians scattered around the world would have found themselves immersed in a variety of pagan societies. One can only imagine the kind of “unholy” talk and conversation they were exposed to. I think this goes way beyond expressions spoken in anger, which James has already addressed. Here is what Paul had to say about idle speech: “Do not let unwholesome talk some out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 5:4) And Solomon shared this truth: “Evildoers are trapped by their sinful talk, and so the innocent escape trouble.” (Proverbs 12:13) James is challenging his reader to understand that if we are free in Christ, we are free to demonstrate His character. Here is a quote that made an impression on me the first time I heard it. I don’t remember its author. “The words that come out of our mouth provide a clear picture of the condition of our heart.”
The apostle John captured the heart of Christ when he shared this pastoral exhortation: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18) We know from scripture the compassion Jesus demonstrated for those who were in need. As genuine children of God, we should demonstrate the same compassion!
As James ends chapter one, he encourages his reader to “keep themselves from being polluted by the world.” That pollution could easily come from a variety of sources. James was also one of the elders presiding over the drafting of the letter the church in Jerusalem sent to the Gentile believers after Paul’s first missionary journey. James is thought to have served as one of the senior pastors of the church in Jerusalem. He was consistent in demonstrating a commitment to moral purity.
In that letter, the Gentile believers were encouraged to: “…abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.” (Acts 15:29) One could easily draw the conclusion those are the things James would have considered worldly pollutions. They are the same things we should be committed to today: avoiding idolatry, adhering to God’s “law” by following the standards He has established as a New Testament believer, and avoiding sexual immorality.
Tomorrow, we begin chapter two! It can appear James is going to embark on a discourse on the topic of showing favoritism. However, the real topic James will be expanding on is FAITH. In chapter two, James will expound on “Denying our Faith,” “Faith that leads to Obedience” and “Proving our Faith.”