2 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,”[b] also said, “You shall not murder.”[c] If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Faith and Deeds
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
The Book of James was written in AD 49, 16 years after the death of Jesus, but we do not know who wrote this particular book. Tradition says it is James, the brother of Jesus. He was later known as James the Just, and he led the council in Jerusalem. For the sake of this reading, we are going to assume the author was Jesus’ half-brother. His half-brother Jude also wrote a book in the New Testament, and the interesting thing is neither James nor Jude were followers of Jesus while he was alive. We can assume the brothers converted after the resurrection when they realised their half-brother was the son of God.
There are 59 imperatives in the Book of James: 59 things you should do. These are instructions on how to live your life, which is why James is considered a book of Wisdom rather than an epistle. It tells us we should not have favourites and not assume things because of someone’s appearance. Faith is not like that. Faith is a commitment and about doing what is right. Faith is making sure your actions are selfless rather than selfish.
Martin Luther and other religious speakers liked the Book of James because it is a reminder that salvation comes from knowing Jesus Christ. We do not get into Heaven by doing good things. God is not looking down on us, giving us points for our actions. It is not a case of getting 100 points before being allowed into Heaven; we are allowed in because we believe Jesus Christ is our Saviour. It is because we believe in Jesus Christ that we do good things.
This Sermon was first preached at Wanstead URC on 5th September 2021
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon