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Practical Christian Discipleship in Action
This is the oldest Book in the New Testament, written by the half-brother of Jesus, James, before the Church Council in Jerusalem, which happened in AD 49, as recorded in Acts 15. James is one of the easiest Books to understand, but one of the hardest to apply. It is no-nonsense, rubber meets the road, practical Christianity in action. This is true practical Faith contrasted with false profession and presumption. In James we see that conversion produces real change in character and conduct. Faith without works is dead. Genuine faith is seen in your actions. We are to endure trials with joy. James could be entitled: Truth in Action, or Faith Works, or the Behaviour of Belief.
Dedicated Discipleship and Daily Duty
Our Lord Jesus gave the Parable of the Two Sons: Two sons were told to do something. One said, Yes, I will, but did not. The other said, No, I won’t, but later repented and went and did what his father had told him to do. The one who said he would failed to and the one who said he would not, later obeyed, Jesus was speaking particularly about the Jews who said they would obey God's Law but failed to and therefore lost their place in the Covenant vs. the ones who said they would not, but who later came to the Lord and obeyed and were blessed. They are counted as the true sons of Abraham.
Joy Despite Suffering
“James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings. My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:1-8. James address the 12 tribes scattered abroad. As the 10 tribes were taken away in the Assyrian Exile and scattered abroad into Europe, there were only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin left in Judea. True faith produces patience. We need to let it become perfect by seeing that it is put into practise. We see the value of trials. God works all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. What man means for evil, God can use for good. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All wisdom comes from God. Faith is not presumption. We are meant to be like a tree which puts its roots down beside still waters whose leaves produce good fruit.
Riches are Fleeting and Life is Fragile
“Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.” James 1:9-11. This reminds us that riches are fleeting and life is fragile. No one’s life lasts forever. We will be lost if we put all our hope in things that do not last forever. A Christian has to live in the light of eternity. People rise and fall, kingdoms rise and fall, kings rise and fall, presidents come and go. James compares the rich to the flowers of the field, like the grass that withers with the coming of the dry season.
Temptations Come from Within
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” James 1:12-16. We learn that God cannot be tempted and he does not tempt anyone. God may constructively test us, to make us stronger, to help us to succeed, but the devil destructively tempts us, to make us fall. We need to discern the source of criticism. Is it constructive? Or destructive? What you sow is what you reap. Temptation comes from our inward, selfish, carnal and fleshly nature.
God is the Source of Love
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the Word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” James 1:17-18. Everything good comes from God. Which is why we can expect to see our furry family members in Heaven, because love comes from God. It is impossible that you could love your pets more than God does, because love comes from God.
Be Swift to Listen, Slow to Speak and Slow to Wrath
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20. God gave us two ears and one mouth. We must be more ready to listen than to speak. We must not have a short fuse, ready to assume the worst and misinterpret things. We need to be slow to get angry, but quick to learn and to hear. The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. It is less common to hear of such things as righteous anger, or holy indignation. Although they do exist.
Be a Doer of the Word
“Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect Law of Liberty and continues in it and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:21-25. Here is a contrast between the fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. Faith comes from hearing, hearing by the Word of God. He speaks of being a doer of the Word and a doer of the work. We need to put our faith into action.
Care for Widows and Orphans
“If anyone among you thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1:26-27. Evil speaking and self-deception are marks of the unregenerate. They deceive their own hearts, they do not bridle their tongue, they are useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God our Father is to visit orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unpolluted by the world. Caring is at the heart of real Christianity. Being practical, putting feet to your faith. There are people who hear the Word of God but do not apply it. We must not be deceived by outward appearances.
The Fruit of Faith
We need to understand what is the fruit of faith? What is the evidence of true Faith? A person of true Faith is not only a hearer, but a doer of the work. He receives the implanted Word with meekness and then puts it into practise. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it.
Do Not Judge by Outward Appearances
“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” James 2:1-6. It is so easy to judge by outward appearance, but things are often not the way they look. The Lord has made it clear that many who are now first will be last and the last will be first. The Lord looks at the heart, as only God can.
Rich in the Things of God
Many of the poor are richest in the things of God. Some of the happiest people and most dedicated Christians in the world are poor, have so little and are living under persecution. Sabrina Wurmbrand said that before she went to prison she was very poor, but when she went to prison, she became very rich. She was poor in the things of this world, but she was rich in the things of God as she had memorised much of the Scriptures. She was therefore able to enrich many people in prison with the knowledge of the Scriptures and make many rich. A Nuba Evangelist who had no feet, as they were cut off by the Arabs, continued to take the Gospel to his neighbours riding on a donkey. He was destitute, but rich in God. The Bible says: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News.”
Do Not Honour Blasphemers Who Oppress and Ensnare in Court
“But you have dishonoured the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble Name by which you are called?” James 2:6-7. When James speaks about the rich, he speaks about those who dishonour and oppress believers and who blaspheme the Name of God. Such people hate Christ.
The Royal Law
“If you really fulfill the Royal Law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the Law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole Law and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the Law of Liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:8-13. Do to others as you want them to do unto you. The Golden Rule is to do to others as you want them to do to you. The Royal Law is, Love your neighbour as yourself. The Ten Commandments is the Law of Liberty. It sets us free. The world’s law oppresses. God's Law protects.
Mercy Triumphs Over Judgement
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. We who judge others will find ourselves judged with greater strictness. But those who show mercy can expect to find mercy. Jesus taught us to pray in this way: ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Forgive us our debtors as we forgive those indebted to us. Forgive us our transgressions, as we forgive those who have transgressed against us.’ Mercy is a fruit of a saved person.
Faith is Seen in Action
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe - and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” James 2:14-26
Good Works are a Fruit of Faith
We see that faith is shown by works. Presumption is dead. This is not hostile to the teachings of Paul. Some people have said that James was writing against Sola Fide, Salvation is received by Faith alone, but he did not. Good works are the fruit of faith. Faith is the root and works are the fruit. The fruit does not bear the tree, the tree bears the fruit. Barren and unfruitful faith is no faith at all. If you find a body and there is no pulse, no breathing, no heartbeat, then there is no evidence of life. Just as the body without breath, pulse and heartbeat is dead, so faith without works is dead. “Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
Law and Gospel
James mentioned two examples from the Hall of Faith, Hebrews 11, showing that faith is always seen in works. It is bold and active. Feet needs to be put to your faith. This chapter is very important to show the relationship between faith and works, or Law and Gospel. The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. The Law is the schoolmaster that leads us to Christ that we can be justified by faith. We are not saved by the Law. The Law points to Christ. It is by the Law that you realise the character of God, the standards and holiness of God and the depravity of man. We then realise how lost we are outside of Christ. Therefore it leads us to a point where we can actually be saved by faith. Faith and works go together.
Set on Fire by Hell
“My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is 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. With it we bless our God and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.” James 3: 1-12
Taming the Tongue
Teachers will be judged by a higher standard. To whom much is given, much is required. To whom much more is given, much more is required. James speaks of the tiny tongue and how it can be such a problem. So we need to be slow to speak and quick to listen, slow to wrath. Be careful about what you say, be self-disciplined and restrained in your speech.
Do Not Boast and Lie Against the Truth
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 3:13-18. Here is a depiction of the wicked through the fruit of the flesh. Here the fruit of the Spirit is also spelled out.
Friendship with the World is Enmity to God
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’.” James 4:1-6
It is Spiritual Adultery to Love the World
You cannot be faithful to God while being a friend of the world. This world system is hostile to Christ. If we are friends with the world, then we become enemies of God. To love this world and to love the things of this world is spiritual adultery. We should be faithful to God in all things.
God Resists the Proud But Gives Grace to the Humble
God gives grace to the humble. That is why we have to give Law to the proud and the Gospel to the humble. Grace is for those who humble themselves, acknowledge their sin, mourn and confess their sins. But those who are proud and believe they are a “good person”, need the Law. A person who is justifying themselves is not ready for the Gospel, they still need the Law of God to humble them. Only those who humble themselves before God are ready to receive the Gospel.
Submit to God – Resist the Devil
“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.” James 4:7-10. If the devil is not fleeing from us then we are either failing to submit to God, or we are failing to resist the devil, or both. If we are submitting to God and resisting evil then satan has to flee. No power is greater than that of God. We are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus who loves us. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This is at the heart of the Gospel: God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.
God is Able to Save and to Destroy
“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the Law and judges the Law. But if you judge the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” James 4:11-12
Hypocrisy and Judgementalism
This makes it crystal clear that those who speak evil of God are showing themselves to have the fruit of fake faith, or presumption. If we have received mercy then we will be merciful. He who knows what it is to be forgiven will be more gracious to others. Yet you find hypocrites and pharisees will damn another person to hell for a miniscule fraction of a sin that they, themselves, are guilty of. Ask an unregenerate person: “Would you consider yourself to be a good person?” and they will respond: “I am a very good person!” Such individuals are not humble before God. They do not recognise their sin. They do not appreciate the holiness of God. They do not understand the depravity of their sinful nature. They probably think God is blessed to have them on His side and delude themselves that they are a great blessing to the church! Instead we are all well deserving an eternity in hell. We are saved only by the grace of God alone. A person who understand that, one who has been forgiven, will be able to forgive others. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
All Boasting is Sin
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” James 4:13-16
To Know the Good We Ought to Do and Not Do it is Sin
We do not know what will happen tomorrow. When we speak about things planned for the future, we should say: “God willing,” Deus Volente (DV). We need to be humble, as these things are in God's hands. Boasting is evil. To know the good that you ought to do and to fail to do it, is sin. It is the sin of omission. Neglect of duty.
Sins of Omission are Even More Serious
Many people think of sin more in terms of bad things. Some of us can delude ourselves that we are not that bad: “I do not smoke, I do not get drunk, I do not do drugs, I am not a pervert, I am not like that tax collector, I fast twice a week and give one tenth of my income to the Lord.” In Matthew 25 the Lord Jesus says He will condemn on the Day of Judgement, “…you did not visit those in prison, you did not care for the sick, you did not give clothes to the naked, you did not give food to the starving, you did not give water to the thirsty, depart from Me you cursed in the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” The Lord describes the Day of Judgement not so much in terms of the bad things we have done, but more in terms of the good things we failed to do. He describes sins of omission. By that definition there are a lot of people who are self-righteous and think they are good because they do not do a list of bad things. But what good are you doing in terms of fulfilling the Great Commission? Loving your neighbour? Seeking first the Kingdom of God? Doing the good that you know you ought to do?
Laying up Fuel for the Lake of Fire
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.” James 5:1-6
What We Sow is What We Will Reap
The wicked are laying up fuel for the fire. The rich who are corrupt, who heap up treasures for themselves by fraud, who live for pleasure and luxury are fattening their hearts and souls for the day of slaughter. They have condemned and murdered the just. The wicked are laying up fuel for the lake of fire.
“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the Name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord - that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’ lest you fall into judgment.” James 5:7-12
Live Productive Lives in the Light of Eternity
The fact that the Lord will return, should be a great comfort to us, because God will ensure that justice is done. The farmer is lifted up as an example of patient, steadfast, hard work, receiving treasures from the earth. The food that comes out of the soil are treasures. Farming requires a good work ethic, patience and faith. A farmer can sow and reap, but he cannot bring the rain. Only God can send the rain. Only God gives the increase. We should live sober, God-fearing lives of good neighbourliness and showing kindness and mercy to others, in the light of the Day of Judgement. We must learn from the perseverance of Job and see the end intended by the Lord. The Lord is very compassionate and merciful. We must say what we mean and mean what we say. Be people of integrity. Be a person of your word. Let your yes be Yes! And your no, No!
Effective Fervent Prayer
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing Psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again and the Heaven gave rain and the earth produced its fruit.” James 5:13-18
A Life-Threatening Situation in a Remote Mission Field
On a Mission to the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, fulfilling the Great Commission, many hours from the nearest hospital, nowhere close to any medical kind of assistance, I was stung by a scorpion. It was a small light-coloured scorpion with big swollen tail and small clippers. These are the ones who are most poisonous. As I was stung, I could feel the poison working through my hand, up my arm, past my elbow. I could do nothing, but call for our Mission team and others around to pray for me, as I felt the poison heading for my heart. I then had the most extraordinary experience. As they started to pray, I felt the poison going back down my arm, past my elbow, into my hand and out my fingers. It was one of the most extraordinary quick answers to prayer I have ever experienced. The context of Mark 16 that you may be bitten by snakes and stung by scorpions, yet they will not harm you, is during the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Confession and Repentance
The great Revival at KwaSizabantu Mission in KwaZulu, was in some ways built around James 5:16. They have a hospital that operates with the knowledge that many illnesses are psychosomatic even though they have physical symptoms. Many illnesses have spiritual, mental and emotional causes. Sometimes when medical science has done everything they can, some doctors send their patients to this Mission, where they counsel the patients, read the Scriptures, encourage them to confess their sins and to make right with the Lord and with others. Many of these people are healed. Not all, but many. While they do not discourage people from taking medication and doing what they can medically, they realise that many patients need spiritual healing first. The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was called on by God to call for drought as a judgement upon a wicked people who were in apostasy against God. After the contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, God sent fire on the altar of Elijah. The people shouted: “The Lord, He is God!” Elijah then prayed for rain and it came and the earth produced its fruit.
Truth Sets Us Free
“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20. Truth is key. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. The first part of the full armour of God in Ephesians 6, is the belt of truth. Truth matters. We should stand for the truth. We should oppose all error and falsehood.
True faith is tested. True faith is seen in action. True faith includes joy amidst suffering. True faith includes endurance and perseverance. True faith is eager to search for the truth. True faith is teachable and loves the truth and shows itself in love for their neighbours and in humility before God. We are commanded to draw near to God, to resist sin, satan and the world, to seek wisdom from God and to seek wisdom from His Word. We need to be focused in our faith.
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa