James 3:1 – 2
We continue in our study of the Book of James and in the third chapter, the writer of the Book intends to continue to push the Gospel of Works as he further speaks about the many things he had highlighted in the first chapter. From the previous chapters, we’ve learnt that James had his thoughts in the Old Testament as he wrote this Epistle and according to the Old Testament, your outward appearance (especially when it comes to feeling remorseful) for example, was to show forth by the physical sacrifice that you bring to the altar as an indication of what you proclaimed by your belief.
One of the conclusions he made in the last chapter was that, the very moment you separate the body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse. In other words, your faith meant nothing if the same faith does not have works accompanying it. According to James as we read from the previous chapter, Abraham became righteous and proved his faith when he almost killed Isaac, his son.
At the time James wrote this book, the New Testament had not been written and little was known to him about the writings of St Paul and the doctrine that included the Gentiles and how they could be saved. James would not have written a better letter because he was limited in the knowledge and purpose of God even after the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus and more importantly the message of the Gospel.
Again, we are reminded about the fact that this letter was written predominantly to the Jews who were in diaspora; they were going through all sorts of pain and suffering and they had to get encouragement from somewhere. So nothing in the book addressed the Gentiles, there was no mention of the purpose of the death of Jesus; nothing was said about the ministry of the Holy Spirit or the Grace of God. It was a book written predominantly to the Jews having in hindsight the Old Testament as its foundation, so James wouldn’t have said anything outside what he knew more so when there had been a paradigm shift.
One thing we should be very convinced of is that, the Church at Galatia read and understood the Book of James, which prompted an issue (or debate) of whether the Gentiles could be saved or not and if they could be saved without the practice of the Old testament ritual and circumcision. There was a rift in Galatia and it became necessary for the Apostle (Paul) to meet with the Jerusalem council over the matter. I am certainly convinced that the foundational books of the New Testament (Romans) had not been written at this stage. All that was available to the Christians at that time, were probably the Words of Jesus (and of course the Old Testament) and the Book of James.
Within the first century Judaism, there were many views accompanied with the freedom to teach. An example was when Paul entered a Synagogue he had never been before and was asked to preach or teach a sermon (Acts 13 and Acts 14). There were opportunities then to explain from the Law and the Prophets that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. Many would have been zealous at that time to be witnesses about and for their Saviour enough to make them jump at any opportunity to preach or teach – and the reason James warned that many who desire to teach would be saddled with greater responsibilities and that higher standards were expected of them by God.
They would be expected to set examples in many ways: they have to learn how to endure hardship, persevering under trial (going back to site from the first chapter) by removing all moral filth and evil from their lives, by keeping themselves from being polluted by the world, by being slow to speak and slow to anger, by looking after the widows, the fatherless and the poor, by keeping the royal law of the love for their neighbour and the law that gives freedom by displaying mercy and forgiveness.
All such good works would further ensure that they were considered righteous and it would be clear to others that their faith was not dead because it had been accompanied with Works.
James believed and stated that if a person could keep his tongue in check then he would be a mature or perfect Christian and more so control their whole lives.
Again, let’s not forget that James is making a case for works having been exposed to only the Old Testament, he couldn’t have written beyond the Old Testament. Apostle Paul on the other hand helped us to understand that the born again Christian is the only entity who carries two kinds of nature in them – the old sin nature and the new life we have through the righteousness of God. Paul gave and expressed the dilemma he was in when he mentioned the fact that the moment he wants to do good, there was something (Old Sin Nature or OSN) present amongst his members stopping him.
On the other side of the coin when he wants to do evil, the OSN gives support and pressures him into doing that evil thing. He then expressed and gave a solution to Christians, which is, the Christian person should renew their minds. For when the mind is renewed, we are able to know the various dimensions of the Word of God and when that is done, the moment we want to do good, the New Nature we have is able to suppress the Old Sin Nature in us and we are therefore able to do good as we would want to.
He expressed it like this in the book of Galatians; he said, “Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants and the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions, but when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the Law of Moses.”
“Every one of us ought to remember that a great deal of that commodity in this world known by the name of good works, is not good works at all. What is a good work? I should venture to say that anything that has in it the element of selfishness is not good. You may question that, but I think it is the highest virtue to be unselfish. If a man be found to be virtuous, as we say, with the design of benefiting himself, has he not spoiled his virtue?” – CHS