James 3:2 “For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”
This is quite a statement! While very true that we all stumble and sin in a myriad of ways, James then claims that there is one way to keep from stumbling—taming your tongue. Basically James is telling us that if we can control our speech, saying only those things that are uplifting and glorifying to God, then we would be perfect. In controlling our mouths, we would also be able to control everything else about us. Jesus had said that it isn’t what goes into a man that makes him unclean but what comes out of his mouth, since out of a man’s mouth shows the abundance of his heart. (Matthew 12:34) What we say reveals who we are. We would all do well to take heed to the coming admonitions concerning our speech; if we could but control it, we would, indeed, look more like our Savior.
Study/Meditation: Think of a time recently when the abundance of your heart was revealed in your words. What can you do now to prepare for the next time you have an opportunity to show your heart in this way?
*Father, help me to speak only those things that are glorifying to You and uplifting in Your Kingdom. Forgive me when I fail in this and thank You for loving me and guiding me through my failures. Amen.
Focal Passage- James 3:1-12
James 3:1 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
This next section of James’ letter takes a slightly different direction, but only slightly. He has been instructing his readers to have an active faith, one that is marked by good works, but he knew that the human heart would also pervert this truth. You see, being a rabbi, or a teacher, to the men and women of James’ day was of the greatest honor. Consequently, some might take James’ words on active faith to reinforce their conceit and self-serving egos. As a matter of fact, the act of teaching, according to James, should be viewed with a certain amount of fear and a great amount of responsibility since the act of teaching involves directly influencing the faith of others. It should never be seen as self-elevating but instead as another form of service. Basically James is telling us to check our hearts; be sure all that we aspire to do for God’s Kingdom is truly for His Kingdom, and not for what we see as our own.
Study/Meditation: How did Jesus treat the teachers and rabbis of His day? (Matthew 23:5-7) What do His words about these rabbis teach us?
*Father, forgive me when my ego gets in the way of my service. Help me to do all that I do in the service and to the glory of Your Kingdom. Amen.
Focal Passage- James 2:14-26
James 2:26 “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
James ends this section on his exhortation to works-based faith with a very vivid illustration. He likens faith without works to a body without a spirit. He says that faith that is not accompanied by works is the same as a lifeless corpse. It can and does do nothing. These are very serious matters. James is concerned that the lip service given to faith in Jesus Christ that is not also evidenced by actions will be the cause of many thinking they are entering heaven for all eternity but who are actually sentenced to an eternity of damnation. Instead we must all heed the Apostle Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4 and put off the old, dead body and put on the new creation, one that is “to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24) We accomplish that when our faith is alive and active in our lives.
Study/Meditation: Given what both James and Paul say, why do you think love is the word that embodies the two greatest commandments?
*Father, remind me daily what it looks like to have a faith that is alive and active. Forgive me when I am lazy in this. Thank You for loving me so much that You will not leave me to this sort of ignorance. Amen.
James 2:25 “And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent then out by another way?”
It’s interesting that James uses as his examples both a Jew and a Gentile. Additionally, one was a law-following man and the other a pagan woman, one from the right side of the tracks and the other from the wrong. And yet they both had faith, they believed, and then each of their faiths were proven by something they did. God is no distinguisher of persons, and that includes what He requires of His children. All must have faith and all must demonstrate that faith with their works. What our pasts look like is of no consequence to God. What is of consequence is what we do with our present and our future in terms of bringing Him glory. We do that through our actions that come out of our changed hearts. Men and women, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor—all are included in these holy expectations.
Study/Meditation: How are these particular examples—Abraham and Rahab—comforting to all believers? How do they put us all on equal footing?
*Father, thank You for choosing me, not based on whether I was good enough, but based only on Your love. Help me to show the world my changed heart in the things I do for Your glory. Amen.
James 2:24 “You see that a person is justified by works and not faith alone.”
This verse has often been a bit confusing to many believers since it seems to completely disagree with all that the Apostle Paul argues in his letters in terms of justification by faith alone through grace alone. Yet here is James saying that we are justified by works and not faith alone. How can both claims be present in the Bible? The answer is in the original language. The Greek word used for “justified” was “dikaioo,” but this word could be used in two senses (much like we might use the word “right” to mean either a “direction” or “correct”). Paul used it in one sense, “being acquitted” or “making one righteous,” whereas James used it in the second sense, a “vindication” or “proof” of righteousness. James is simply saying that faith is proven or vindicated by works. In other words, we are truly saved by faith, but that faith will be proven in our lives.
Study/Meditation: How might you answer someone who argued justification by faith alone meant you could make a profession of faith and then live any way you want? What would James say to that?
*Father, help me today and every day to live out my faith in You, demonstrating in all that I do that I have received Your unmerited grace. Amen.
Focal Passage- James 2:14-26
James 2:20-23 “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God.”
The one example James’ Jewish readers might have used to justify a position on faith-only salvation would have been Abraham, so Abraham is exactly the example James uses to show that faith plus works is necessary. While it is absolutely true that Abraham’s faith saved him and this faith was “counted to him as righteousness,” Abraham demonstrated this faith by his actions. God had promised him that his descendents would be as numerous as the sands of the seashore. Then God commanded that Abraham sacrifice to Him the very son He had given the old man to fulfill this promise. Abraham’s faith, his belief in God, was then shown in his obedience to God. His faith was, as James wrote, “completed by his works.” Likewise, our faith is completed by our works. To say I believe God and all that He says and then disobey what He says is not saving faith; it is not faith that has been proven. As stated in verse 22, our faith must be active, and it is active in our obedience.
Study/Meditation: Look back at Abraham’s response when God told him to go to the mountain to sacrifice Isaac. (Genesis 22:1-14) How were Abraham’s instructions to his servants before going up to the mountain indicative of his faith? (Genesis 22:5)
*Father, thank You for the many examples You have given us in Your Word that saving faith is obedient faith. Help me in this life to show that I believe. Amen.