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We’ve reached a really crucial section – perhaps /the/ central section – of what James wants us to understand and know.
One commentator has said “This paragraph is the most theologically significant, as well as the most controversial, in the Letter of James”.
He’s right, but it shouldn’t really be like that.
It’s certainly theologically significant.
But controversial?
It’s only controversial if you haven’t understood it.
James has been teaching us how we should live as Christians.
In the [[first 12 verses|bible:James 1:1-12]] of chapter 1 he told us that *even trials are good for us.*
They’re good for us because even though it’s possible that things could get worse, not better, there is always hope that /he/ would become better, and therefore more able to deal with the trials he was facing.
Then in [[verses 12 through 18|bible:James 1:12-18]], he taught us the other side of the coin, that *trials can become temptations.*
Sometimes, he said, trials don’t build us up, trials drag us down.
This is because “each one is tempted when he is drawn away /by his own desires/ and enticed”.
Your biggest problem, James says, is you.
Then in [[verses 19 through 27|bible:James 1:19-27]], he starts to show us how these things can work out in practice.
When we’re tested, he says, whether we pass the test will depend on whether our deeds match our words.
The true Christian, who passes the test, will be *consistent in words and actions*.
Then in chapter two and [[verses 1 to 13|bible:James 2:1-13]], he taught us about *the folly of favouritism*.
There is no place for favouritism within the church of God.
The Christian faith is incompatible with partiality, and he shows us why through example ([[v1|bible:James 2:1]]), through principle ([[verse 2-4|bible:James 2:2-4]]), by exposing both the underlying errors ([[verses 5-7|bible:James 2:5-7]]), and the consequences of such a view ([[verses 8-13|bible:James 2:8-13]]).
Last time around, we then took a little digression from James’ central point, by examining [[verses 8-13|bible:James 2:8-13]] in more detail, to see how we what James meant when he said we should fulfil the royal law.
But if we’re to properly understand why the verses we’re looking at this morning are so central to James’ argument, we need to look again at everything we’ve learned so far, and see the big theme that James has been slowly unfolding to us.
So get your Bibles out, and look again at all those sections, and see what you notice.
Firstly, in [[verses one to twelve|bible:James 1:1-12]], James is showing us how we should behave – in particular, how we should behave when we’re persecuted.
We’re to *count it all joy* ([[verse 2|bible:James 2:1]]), *let patience work in us* ([[verse 4|bible:James 1:4]]), and *ask God when we’re in need* ([[verse 5|bible:James 1:5]]).
And he also tells us *why* we should behave in this way.
[[Verses 3 and 4|James 1:3-4]] tells us that it will lead to maturity.
Verse 5 tells us that God will give generously to us.
[[Verses 9 to 11|bible:James 1:9-11]] tells us that our time is short, and [[verse 12|bible:James 1:12]] tells us that God has promised a crown of life to those who love Him.
All that we’ve covered before.
But this is what I want you to notice.
In these opening 12 verses, there are several things that James wants us to *do*.
And there are several reasons why we should do them, all of which can be traced, directly or indirectly back to God.
But what is important is that all of the reasons *why* we should do things, is to some extent *future*.
Look again, and you’ll see what I mean: [[verse 4|bible:James 1:4]]: “you may be”, [[verse 5|bible:James 1:5]]: “it will be”, [[verse 10|bible:James 1:10]]: “he will pass away”, [[verse 11|bible:James 1:11]]: “will fade away”, [[verse 12|bible:James 1:12]]: “he will receive the crown of life”.
So clearly in [[verses 1-12|bible:James 1:1-12]], James wants us to do things now, because of what we believe *will happen in the future*.
Just hold that thought, and we’ll now turn to [[verses 12-18|bible:James 1:12-18]].
Here again, you’ll notice that James wants us to behave in a certain way – he wants us never to say “I am tempted by God”, [[verse 13|bible:James 1:13]].
Then he gives us the reasons, which again can be traced back to God.
There are several reasons, God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone, [[verse 13|bible:James 1:13]].
Further reasons are that good gifts are from God, and he doesn’t change [[v17|bible:James 1:17]].
The other reason, given in [[verses 14-15|bible:James 1:14-15]] is that our temptations can be traced to another source, ourselves.
So let’s realise what James is doing.
He wants us to change our behaviour (what we say), as a result of what we have understood about God and ourselves.
Hopefully you’re starting to see the pattern now.
Let’s see it again in the next section, [[verses 19 through 27|bible:James 1:19-27]].
Here again it’s clear that James wants us to change our behaviour.
[[Verse 19|bible:James 1:19]]: we should be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.
[[Verse 21|bible:James 1:21]]: We should lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word.
[[Verse 22|bible:James 1:22]]: we should be doers of the word.
And so it goes on.
But *why* should we behave in these ways.
James gives us many answers.
Let me highlight just two.
In [[verse 21|bible:James 1:21]] he tells us that the word *is able* to save us.
And in [[verse 25|bible:James 1:25]] he tells us that doers of the word *will be* blessed.
Again it’s clear what James is doing.
We should behave in a certain way because of what we believe will happen in the future, and as a result of what we’ve understood about God and ourselves.
We’ll just quickly run through the [[first 13 verses|bible:James 2:13]] of chapter 2, and we’ll see exactly the same things there.
James wants us to change our behaviour.
In particular, [[verse 1|bible:James 2:1]], we’re to be impartial.
Why? Several reasons are given.
[[Verse 5|bible:James 2:5]] gives a reason on the basis of what God has already done.
And [[verse 12|bible:James 2:12]] gives a reason on the basis of what God will do (he will judge us).
So again, we should behave in a certain way because of what we believe will happen in the future, and as a result of what we’ve understood about God and ourselves.
Now I’m sorry for labouring the point, but it’s absolutely crucial we’ve understood this correctly.
Christianity has an awful lot to say about what we should do.
But it always says it in the context of what we believe.
I’m going to say that again.
Christianity has an awful lot to say about what we should do.
But it always says it in the context of what we believe.
We should count persecution as joy, because we believe God will use it to make us better people.
We should not say God tempted me, because we believe God cannot tempt anyone.
We should be doers of the word, because we believe God will bless those who do.
We should not show partiality, because we believe that God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich.
True Christianity is always a combination: what we believe comes first, and that then changes how we live.
There is no other option.
If we don’t believe in Christianity, then we cannot live as Christians.
If we /do/ believe in Christianity, then we /must/ live as Christians.
Whenever Christianity removes what we believe, and leaves only what we do, we’re left with legalism.
And if we remove what we do, and leave only what we believe, we’re left with antinomianism.
Both are false gospels.
So now we can turn to James chapter 2 and [[verse 14 to 26|bible:James 2:14-26]].
How does James’ argument flow in these verses?
If you look at the verses you’ll see that James immediately asks a very pointed question in [[verse 14|bible:James 2:14]].
He then goes onto give four very different examples that answers the question.
James then finishes with a one-sentence summary of how his own question should be answered in [[verse 26|bible:James 2:26]].
So we’ll split the passage into three parts.
The challenging riddle ([[v14|bible:James 2:14]]), the clear reasons ([[vv15–25|bible:James 2:15-25]]), and the concluding reply ([[v26|bible:James 2:26]]).
Obviously that middle section of 11 verses is going to consume the most of our time, so when we get there, we’ll split that middle section up a bit, too.
Firstly then,
The challenging riddle ([[v14|bible:James 2:14]])
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can faith save him?
Now I’ve said already that James’ point should not surprise us if we’ve been listening properly to everything he’s said so far.
But unless we’re half asleep, [[v14|bible:James 2:14]] should really make us sit up and pay attention, shouldn’t it?
That’s even more the case if we give the verse a literal translation.
In Greek, just like English, there are lots of different ways of asking questions.
One way makes it clear that the answer expected is ‘no’.
And that’s the form James uses here.
So perhaps it would be better to translate the last part of the verse like this: *Faith can’t save him, can it?*
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