Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, September 6, 2015
Faith and Works - September 6, 2015 - Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) - Text: James 2:1-10, 14-18
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). In our text for today, James writes, “14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). The question always arises, does Paul contradict James, or does James contradict Paul? The answer is neither, rather they compliment each other. We see this as we read on in verse ten of Ephesians chapter two which reads, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). God did not create us to be or do nothing in His world, rather He created us to do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do, good works which are a response of faith, which flow out of faith given by God and worked in and through us by God. Paul stresses salvation by grace through faith and James stresses that good works naturally flow from such faith, they compliment each other.
Moving into our text we read the first section beginning at verse one, “1My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?” (v. 1-7). James begins by telling us not to show favoritism. So we might ask, how is favoritism seen? James gives us the example of distinguishing between a rich person and a poor person. We see favoritism even more so in our world today when it comes to people of different ethnicities or cultures, colors, languages and the like. Unfortunately, as sinful human beings we cannot help but be prejudice and show favoritism, because to show favoritism is simply our nature.
James reminds us that God does not show favoritism. Rich and poor are alike in God’s eyes. James’ words remind us that Jesus shed His blood for everyone, for all people, regardless of ethnicity or culture, language, or skin color. How great it would be if we could see other people with the eyes of Jesus. How great it would be if when we look at another person that we could say, Jesus loved that person so much that He shed His holy, precious blood for that person, who are we to love them any less? Now that type of action is not showing favoritism.
Continuing on with our text we move to section two beginning at verse eight we read, “8If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (v. 8-10). James reminds us of the royal law found in Scripture, which is the summary of the second table of the commandments dealing with our relationships with each other, that is that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we could love our neighbor as ourselves we would not break any of the commandments; we would not despise those in authority over us; we would not lust after another person; we would not kill, hate, hurt, or name call; we would not steal, gossip, nor covet anything that is our neighbors. To sum it up, if we could love our neighbor as ourselves we would almost be perfect.
To keep us from thinking we can be perfect or that we can work our way into heaven, James reminds us that if we keep the whole law, if we can obey every commandment perfectly, if we could keep all of the law, except at one point, then we are guilty of breaking it all. The best example I can give is to think about an electric wire. An electric wire carries electricity. Yet, if you were to touch the wire at only one spot, you would still be subject to the entire amount of electricity in the whole wire. Likewise, if we try to get to heaven by demonstrating how good we are, yet we fail in one little point, it is that little point which drains all our good works and we become guilty of all.
Finally in section three beginning at verse fourteen we read, “14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and 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? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (v. 14-18). James gives a practical example of what he means. We all have many opportunities in a day when we have the opportunity to show our faith through the way we live, that is as we live as priests in our vocations. When everyone at work is bad mouthing the boss around the coffee pot, we can say something nice in his defense. When a collection of can goods is being collected for those who have nothing to eat, we can be the first in line to give, and not just give those old cans of food we have not eaten, but new cans of something we might like and think others might like as well. When no one else will befriend the stranger, hopefully the guest, but at least the visitor, in church, we can be there to hold out our hand and say, “hi”. There are many ways we can demonstrate the faith that we have in our daily living.
When it comes to faith showing itself in action, it is almost like we do not have a choice because we cannot help ourselves, we must demonstrate our faith through our actions. When we go to church and wear the name Christians, we are saying the we are examples of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. How we live then is a loud and clear example of what we believe about Jesus. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, what are my actions saying about my Savior and my faith in Jesus?
Indeed, just as faith shows itself in actions and so the opposite is just as true, a lack of faith shows itself in a lack of actions. As you have heard me say before, faith’s desire is to be where the gifts of God are being given out. When we have little or no desire to be in Divine Service and Bible class, when we have no desire to read and study God’s Word, when we have no desire to participate in the fellowship of the Christian church that is a sign of a lack of faith. That is why we are to encourage each other in the body of Christ, lest our brother or sister so continue to refuse and reject the gifts of God until their faith has dried up to nothing.
James tells us that faith without works is dead? The best example I can give you is this: if I told you I owned one of the most expensive cars on the market and that I kept it in my garage (supposing I could get it into my garage) would you believe me? As your pastor you might believe me, unless you think about how much I get paid. As I remind you to be as the Bereans, then you probably would not believe me, at least not unless you saw it. Likewise, if I go around telling people that I am a Christian, and tell them what a Christian should be and do, and yet do not act accordingly, then they will not believe that I am a Christian.
The way James puts it, it is almost an automatic thing; faith must show itself by good works. This is especially where Paul and James are so complimentary. Paul reminds us that we are sinful human beings. He reminds us that in the midst of our being sinners and enemies of God, that during our being sinners and enemies of God that is when God sent Jesus to take all our sins upon Himself, to suffer the eternal consequences for our sinning. Because of God’s great love for us, through faith in Jesus, we have forgiveness, life and salvation. So, because of all that God has done for us, how can we do anything else, but respond, with the help of the Holy Spirit, by living our lives according to His good and gracious will.
So we have almost already answered the “what does this mean?” question this morning. To put it back into the language of the text this means that we will want to ask ourselves, “How often do we betray our unbelief by showing favoritism?” “How often do we show our unbelief by sinning against the ten commandments?” How often do we betray our lack of faith by putting something before God and worshiping Him, refusing and rejecting His gifts by not being in divine worship, by not reading His Word, by not having private and family devotions and the like? Unfortunately, the answer is more often than we think, or would like to admit.
Thanks be to God that He does not show favoritism. Or maybe we should say thanks be to God that Jesus showed His favoritism for us in that while we were in the midst of sinning He died for us. Thanks be to God that no matter how sinful we are and can be, our sins have already been forgiven. Every morning we wake up knowing that we have been given today as a gift from God and each day is an opportunity to live it to His glory. And even if we mess today up, He has already forgiven us.
Thanks be to God that with the help of the Holy Spirit we can show our faith in our actions. When we think and believe we can be the people God would have us to be, that is when we try to do good things on our own, in a futile attempt to earn heaven, just a little, we need to remember that electric wire which we touch at only one point. By ourselves, because of our sinful nature, we can do no good thing, but with the help of the Holy Spirit we can and do great things.
Do you remember the Song, This Little Gospel Light of Mine? One of the verses expresses the very thing we have been saying. It is the verse that goes, “This little gospel light of mine I’m gonna let it shine, hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine.” When we think about all the good gifts and blessing our Lord has given to us, and all that He has in store for us, how can we hide all that? How can we do anything except give Him thanks and praise and live our lives to His glory.
Both Paul and James help us to keep our focus right. They both begin and end with Jesus. As we have been reminded before, God created us for a purpose. The first and foremost reason God created us was in order to love us. As we have heard here many times, even before God began creating the world, He knew how it would turn out. Even before He began creating the world, He knew what Adam and Eve would do. Even before creating the world, God knew us. He knew you and He knew me. He knew us by name. And yet, God still created the world. He created the world to love the world, and specifically to love us. This is how we know we worship the one true God, because our God needs nothing from us, but gives everything to us, that is why He created us. The second part of Paul’s message and James’ message is that God also redeemed us for a purpose. Jesus suffered, died and rose for a reason. He suffered, died and rose so that we might have forgiveness, life and salvation. And, finally, as a response of faith, as Paul and James tell us, our response of faith is this, as the Holy Spirit gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith, as the Holy Spirit works in and through us, through the means of grace, so with His help and by His power we do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do and they are good works because He motivates us to do them, He works them in and through us, and they are done to His glory.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:8-10). With the help of the Holy Spirit, we leave here today, giving glory to God through our very lives. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.