The Epistle of James - Godly Values
Part 10 - Practical Religion
6th July 2018
OK, let's get back to the epistle of James for a while.
I sometimes hear people say that Christianity isn't a religion; it's a relationship. In truth, it's both. Christianity isn't just about what we believe; it's also about what we do. It's not just about our relationship with God; it's also about how we treat other people. Jesus taught us that the two most important commandments are to love God with all our hearts, all our souls and all our strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
James speaks to his Christian readers with these words:
"Worthless" is a strong word, so we understand that what James is saying here is very important.
In Chapter 3, James will admit that none of us keeps a perfect rein on his tongue, but he doesn't tell us to "keep a perfect rein" on our tongues; he says "keep a tight rein". Do your best to control what you say and how you say it.
If you don't love your brother, or sister, or neighbour, enough to try hard to always say something positive and never say something negative, to always say something loving and never say something cruel, to always say something affirming and never say something critical, to always say something pure and never say something dirty, then James tells us that your religion is worthless.
Again, James doesn't say we have to speak perfectly. He does say we must keep a tight rein. We must do our best. When you ride a horse, you won't keep the horse's face absolutely straight, but you'll keep it straight enough that it goes more-or-less where you want it to go. We can't make our tongues perfect, but we can live lives that more-or-less are always encouraging, always forgiving, always affirming. And if we don't, our religion is worthless.
A true Christian cannot see someone in need, say "Oh, how sad", and walk away. True, pure, faultless religion is to try to help anybody who needs help.
When James wrote this letter, widows didn't have an old age pension and it was very difficult for them to get work, and orphans didn't get any kind of state support. Most of them would be destitute if the church didn't help. That's not true today, but there are still plenty of people around who need our help. Some people need financial help. Some need emotional help. Some need a lift to the hospital. Some need to be included in a friendship group. Some need to be listened to with love, attention and respect.
A true Christian can't see a brother, or a sister, or a neighbour, in need, shrug his shoulders, and ignore the need.
And the true Christian will keep himself or herself from being polluted by the world. The world constantly wants to tempt us to sin. The book of James urges us to accept godly, Biblical values and reject worldly values. All the time, the world is pushing us to accept worldly values, to fit in with the society around us. And there's so much powerful propaganda out there, saying the Bible is wrong, and even that Biblical morality is bad. We must be alert if we're to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world.
In these two verses, James has warned us to keep a tight rein on our tongue, to help others and to avoid being polluted by the world. All three are of vital importance in the Christian life.
Some Christians focus on keeping a tight rein on their tongue. They live out the idea, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all". Some other Christians are brilliant at helping orphans, widows and others in need. Yet other Christians are brilliant at living holy lives. They closet themselves away from the world so completely that they hardly come into real contact with anybody, which makes it easy to be pure. They focus very much on never sinning. But the Bible requires all of us to nurture all three of these virtuous attitudes within ourselves, with encouraging lips, practical love and moral purity.
Two out of three won't do. We can't excuse ourselves before God by saying "No, I'm not very holy, but I am very generous". "I may be a bit mean with my money but I speak nicely". "I may insult people and discourage them, but I never have a sexually impure thought". We're Christians. We're seeking to be Christ-like. God requires us to always speak words of love, to always do deeds of love, and to always live holy lives with holy hearts.
And that gives as us all plenty to work on, doesn't it?