1 February 2017James 1:19-27
“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” (v. 22)
Psalm: Psalm 98
The Methodist Church's Bible Month this year focuses on the letter of James. It takes place in June, although churches and circuits may choose a different time if that is more convenient. For more information (including training and resources), go to www.methodist.org.uk/biblemonth.
The Letter of James has been viewed with suspicion in some quarters of the Church, particularly by those who wish to advocate the teaching of Paul who wrote that "a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law" (Romans 3:28). James offers a contrasting emphasis on the importance of faith being worked out in actions and behaviour. In light of this the German theologian Martin Luther (1483-1546) dismissed the letter as "an epistle of straw".
Here in today's passage readers are encouraged to "be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves". It is those who act who will be "blessed in their doing" (v. 25) and the truest form of religion will bridle the tongue and care for orphans and widows in their distress. Anything less will be a deception and will make their religion "worthless" (v. 26).
It is not difficult to see how both emphases are required and have their place and value. Paul's message of grace and faith, and salvation as a free gift of God, lies at the heart of the Christian religion. But throughout the history of the Church this has at times been distorted to mean that it doesn't matter how a Christian or a Christian community behaves, as long as they have faith. Maybe this is what James was addressing in the early Church or at least the general disposition to welcome the word of God without putting it into practice - to be merely hearers of the word and not doers.
When Christians deceive themselves and engage in this "worthless" religion they open up the Church to the accusation of hypocrisy. A gulf develops between what is said and what is done, and integrity and credibility are lost. We bridle the tongue and care for orphans and widows not in order to earn God's love, but in response to God's love as we seek to imitate God as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are known by our love and by the fruit we bear - or not as the case may be!
- What does it mean for you to "welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your soul" (v. 21)?
- Why do you think the behaviour of Christians matters?
- In which contexts and in what ways would it be helpful for you to "bridle your tongue" (v. 26)?