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Do unto others

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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our song – Amen

James writes…

Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. (1:22)

and … If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. (1:26)

How many of you come out to church on Sunday morning for religion that is worthless?

How many of you are want to be part of something, want to commit your precious weekend time, your hard earned leisure time, to something that is of no value at all?

Well, according to James, the brother of Jesus – that is exactly what it is, if you are not a “doer” of the word

Coca-Cola slogan is “the real thing”

The message given is that if “you want the real thing. You need the real Coke”

So it is with our spirituality, our faith-walk, our Christianity: we want to find the real thing

James takes a hard line position on the message of being a “doer” of the word

Is James right? … does James matter at all?

Is the letter of James of any value to the church – the people of God?

            Does it matter what we ‘do’ with our faith?

Many evangelicals, which this church identifies itself as, make claims that our faith is what matters – you may have heard the term “justified by faith alone”

That sounds a lot like salvation is connected to what we believe – to our faith

Where does that fit with James and the ‘epistle of doing?’

Well, let’s work through some contextual stuff

We are now at the beginning of a series of NT readings on the Book of James.

There will be five weeks which focus on the Book of James, and so some understand of James is important.    - Our contextual material will start with James himself

This week, in my preparations I came across some material that said succinctly, precisely what I wanted to say – so I am indebted to Pastor Edward Markquart, who has been the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, since l973.

Pastor Markquart’s primary gift is his preaching, and he has made his material available to share it with as many people as possible.

James, the brother of Jesus, is REALLY important in the New Testament. Why?

James, the brother of Jesus, saw the RISEN Christ.

The Apostle Paul tells us that the Risen Christ appeared to Peter, the 500, to James and all the apostles. (I Corinthians 15:5-8).

The name of James is at the top of the list.

James, the brother of Jesus, was one of the first three pillars of the early church.

In Galatians 2, Paul writes of - James, Peter, and John. (Galatians 2:9)

James was listed first, BEFORE the names of Peter and John.

You have to be PRETTY important when your name is listed before Peter and John.

Not only was James the first pillar of the earliest church in Jerusalem, we hear other stories in the New Testament about James. Some examples:

- We recall that when Peter miraculously escaped from prison, he specifically wanted James informed as to what happened (Acts 12:17).

- Also when the first Christians in Jerusalem were having a big conference about whether or not Gentile people needed to be circumcised, it was James who guided the answer (Acts 15:13ff).

- Also when Paul arrived in Jerusalem with a fistful of money to give to the poor in Jerusalem, it is James who met him at the door and advised Paul to first go and cleanse himself at the temple (Acts 21:18ff.)

- Finally when Paul showed up in Jerusalem after his conversion, he visited Simon Peter for fifteen days and saw none of the apostles other than James, the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:18-19)

In other words, James, the brother of Jesus, was THE primary leader of the earliest church in Jerusalem.               James was a VIP in the Early Church,

Yet we almost never hear sermons about him.

Why not, why are there so few sermons about him?

One reason might be because James is mentioned only once in the four gospels

Albeit as I have said, he is clearly important in the Book of Acts and letters of the Paul

Another reason is that there is a perception that Protestant theology clashes with James

In particular, it clashes with one of the key founding figures of the Protestant Reformation – Martin Luther

Martin Luther did not like the book of James.

Martin Luther said that the epistle of James was an epistle of straw. He writes

It was easily consumed by fire, and when the straw was burned away, you did not have the pure gold nugget, the gospel, remaining.

Why was James nothing but straw to Luther?

The first reason is that Christ is not emphasized

The words, Jesus Christ, is mentioned only twice in the whole book.

- There is not one mention of the cross.

- There is not one mention of Jesus dying on the cross to pay for our sins.

- There is not one mention of the word grace and what grace means.

In James, there is little mention of Christ, no grace, no atonement, no death on the cross

The second reason Luther disliked James was because of its emphasis on works.

Luther, like the Apostle Paul, emphasized that we are put right with God, justified, by God through God’s grace, through faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law.

James, on the other hand, seems to say that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone…. James clearly and simply emphasized works in order to be a Christian.

Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. (James 1:22)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.(James 1:27)

Now, if you combine the two problems; that is, very limited explanation of the Gospel and instead there is only talk about works, people could draw the false conclusion that a person is saved by works. 

Even so, I have to admit to all my Lutheran-leaning friends, that I like the Book of James.

And I believe that many of you probably also appreciate the Book of James because of its basic practicality - down to earth, real life, practical implications of being a Christian.

I like the Book of James for a couple of reasons.

First, because it is a book of action - Be doers of the word… Be doers who act…

And not just a listener who listens. Not just a thinker who thinks.

Not just a talker who talks. Not just a believer who believes.

But be a believer in Christ who gets things done for the kingdom of God.

That appeals to me because, I like doing things. I like to get things done.

I get itchy feet when a church committee just talks, Plans, Process, or Organizes, and never does anything

So when James says in the epistle for today,

“Do not be hearers who look into a mirror and forget;… but be doers who act. They will be blessed by their doing.”

I like that in James because I think of myself as being a doing person.

But I also like the book of James because I believe that it is a clear simply spoken corrective to our Protestant theology and heritage.

Protestants, from Luther’s teaching, strongly believe in faith in Christ and not works.

For centuries, we have shouted, “A person is saved by grace and not by works lest any person should boast.” Citing Ephesians 2:8-9

We have said these words so often and so persistently we often come to the false conclusion that works of charitable love are not that important.

A Christian cannot separate faith from works of charitable love, from deeds of charitable love.

Just as you cannot separate my head from my body, without both dying, you cannot separate faith from works of charitable love.

Sometimes our attempts to speak the truth turn out funny, like these sentences found on insurance claims:

1.     "I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law and headed over the embankment."

2.     "In my attempt to kill a fly, I drove into a telephone pole."

3.     "The pedestrian had no idea which direction to run, so I ran over him."

4.     "I was thrown from my car as it left the road. I was later found in a ditch by some stray cow."

5.     "A truck backed through my windshield into my husband's face."

6.     "The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him."

Such attempts at stating the truth are humorous because, obviously, they are the result of misplaced modifiers and faux pas, rather than deviousness,

But nonetheless they point out the struggle we all have in communicating accurately and helpfully.[1]

They are not blatant deception – but because of the misplaced emphasis they could be understood to misrepresent or misdirect the truth

Scripture that clearly states one position can also be misunderstood to not represent another position

Now, down deep when you search The Word, James and Paul are saying the same thing.

The Apostle Paul says that true and genuine faith is active in charitable love, or love for the poor

If faith does not result in charitable love, you don’t have faith.

You cannot separate the head from the body or both will die.

And so when James says that true faith is active in works of love for the orphans, widows, and the needy… and says “Now this is true religion.” – He is saying the same thing

The word, religion, by the way, does not refer religion as we might think of it,

But it refers to the worship.

Alternatively, the Greek word for ‘religion’ is ‘liturgy’

Which has been defined as the “work of the people”

Liturgy is the way you worship God.

True liturgy, true worship includes: that you care for orphans and orphans in their suffering, and you remain unstained from the world.

That is the real thing… and you and I want ‘the real thing’ in our Christian faith…

We don’t want our religion to be worthless

Looking back into the context of the text

Why? Why were the people in James’ congregation separating faith in Christ from charitable love?

For James, a major problem in his church, was that he was part of a wealthy congregation.

In this short little book called James, there are five paragraphs which all negative about wealthy Christians of the 1st century Jerusalem.

Many of the members of this wealthy Christian congregation wanted to just believe.

They didn’t want to go and do good for the widow and the orphan

Paragraph for paragraph there are more statements against wealthy Christians in the book of James than any other book in the New or Old Testament

More statements against the wealthy in that little book than in any other place in the Bible.

You see, these wealthy congregations wanted to believe and say:

“Jesus, I love you… Jesus, I like going to church… Jesus, I love worshipping you… Jesus, I love seeing all my friends”

                                    And these wealthy Christians in James’ time did not have true liturgy.

They did not have true worship. They did not have the real thing.

Jesus had a similar problem with the Pharisees.

The Pharisees went to their synagogues every Friday night. They tithed. They knew their Bible very well. They dropped coins into the almsgiving pot.

BUT…they did not care for the poor, the widows, the prostitutes, the beggars, the blind, the lepers, and all the other outcasts of society who were suffering.

Jesus reserved His strongest accusations for the Pharisees – calling them hypocrites and even thieves

They did not have true liturgy. They did not have true worship. They did not have the real thing. 

The persistent problem for James, Paul, and Jesus, is the same problem that persists today.

Today, Christians often separate faith in Jesus Christ from deeds and actions of charitable love.

And so James – the epistle writer of straw – the epistle of doing

The book in the Bible that Luther said should be removed from the Bible

We have James bringing home an important message for all to know

            Bringing it home in clear practical language


Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. (1:22)

“Do not be hearers who look into a mirror and forget;… but be doers who act. They will be blessed by their doing.”


The real thing is not merely faith in our heads – but faith in all we are – in all we do

            ‘Sunday Morning Christians’ is not what God wants

God wants us to be authentic in our faith – Authentic in our believing – Authentic in our doing

            God wants us to walk the talk

When I was growing up I went to an Anglican church that was not the typical Anglican Church

            It was a happy clappy Anglican church

                        And one of my favourite songs that we sung, had the line

                                    “They will know we are Christians by our Love”

                                                The underscore is that:…Christianity expressed - is Love lived out

Maybe the strength of James is not a message of the character of God

But Our character response to God

Another song we sung often, was a musical version of St Francis of Assisi prayer

            And I believe that it is a very full message of Christian life and a fitting prayer to finish with

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;

where there is hatred, let me sow love;          

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light 

and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.                              Amen.


[1] Illustration Sourcebook – Series II – 2312, TRUTH, COMMUNICATION

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