journey through James (13): twenty questions on James 2:14-26

This coming Sunday morning at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 2:14-26. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: replacing the emptiness of foolishness with the fullness of faithfulness. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty questions with which to wrestle.

My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.

Someone might claim, “You have faith and I have action.” But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action. It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear. Are you so slow? Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all? What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions. So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous. What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend. So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone. In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute shown to be righteous when she received the messengers as her guests and then sent them on by another road? As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead. (James 2:14-26 CEB)

1. What statement in this passage is most striking to you? Why?

2. Make a list of what this passage specifically says faith without faithful activity is good for or like.

3. “Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat.” (vs.15) What does this passage have to say about the common teaching today known as the “health and wealth gospel” (i.e. prosperity gospel, name-it-and-claim-it gospel, etc.)?

4. Who is responsible for meeting the physical needs of the Christian poor?

5. What other passages in James come to mind when you read the illustration of benevolence? (vs.15-16)

6. “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!” (vs. 16) What are some modern, roughly equivalent statements you use when you say something to, but do nothing for, someone you see in need?

7. “Faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity” (vs. 17), but is faith necessarily alive when there is activity? Suppose a very active Christian friend confides in you that while they’re doing many good things in Christ’s name, their faith in Christ has faded and at times even appears to be nonexistent. They’re deeply troubled by this. In light of this passage in James, what can you say to them?

8. How are you guilty of sometimes hoping for or expecting faith to be seen without your actions (vs.18)?

9. To what does James have reference and what does he mean by the phrase “God is one?” (vs.19a)

10. Should we, as Christians, “tremble” as the demons do (vs.19b)? Why or why not? As you answer, consider the fact that this is the occurrence in the NT of the Greek word translated here as “tremble”.

11. Aside from James’ statement here that “the demons believe …” (vs.19), what other NT texts would lead you to believe such?

12. “… faith without actions has no value at all.” (vs. 20b) Honestly, is there a part of you that disagrees with this statement? Why or why not?

13. Are you “righteous?” Are you “God’s friend?” (vs.23) Interact at heart level with these statements.

14. Recount as much as you can of the story of Abraham offering Isaac on the altar. Having done so, compare your recollection with the Biblical account in Genesis 22. What parts did you leave out, forget, or get wrong?

15. As you did with the preceding question, do the same with the account of Rahab receiving the spies (Joshua 2).

16. Compare and contrast Abraham (vs.21-24) and Rahab (vs.25).

17. Many Biblical personalities expressed obvious faith again and again. And so, of all the personalities James could have drawn from, and of all the incidents in their lives, why do you suppose he selected Abraham and Rahab to drive home his point that faith without works is dead? What personalities would you have selected and what incidents in their lives?

18. Some say what James says here about faith contradicts what Paul says about faith in Romans and Galatians. What is your impression?

19. Responding from this passage, how would you respond to someone who read this passage and said, “So then, if a person does what’s good, God owes them salvation?”

20. “What good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it?” (vs.14) In what areas of your life do you keenly sense you need to do a better job of showing your faith? How can we pray for you in these areas?

journey through James (10): twenty questions on James 1:19-27

This coming Sunday morning at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 1:19-27. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: “welcoming your working out of his will and word.” To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty questions with which to wrestle.

Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.

You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.

If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless. True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us. (James 1:19-27 CEB)

1. Build a list of all the contrasts or opposites that you pick up on in this passage.

2. From vs.19-27, list the things in which we often “blow it,” be it by doing wrong or leaving good undone.

3. Brainstorm a list of reasons as to “why” Christians should do the specific things mentioned in vs.19, reasons other than the one specifically mentioned in vs.20.

4. Of the three matters named in vs.19, which would you say you’re best at? Worst at? Why?

5. Given these Christian’s specific tests and temptations (vs.2-18), what sort of moral filth (vs.21), growth in wickedness (vs.21) or reckless speech (vs.26) can you imagine coming out of them? What link might caring for orphans and widows and steering clear of worldly contamination (vs.27b) have as well?

6. “… man’s temper is never the means of achieving God’s true goodness.” (1:20 Phillips) How do Christians sometimes confuse or equate their not-so-righteous anger with doing the right thing by God?

7. What could happen if we did all the good described here (vs.19-27), but did it without “humility” (vs.21)?

8. How is it that the word is able to “save” Christians? (vs.21b)

9. In what ways do we Christians tend to make “big talk,” but are small on delivery? (vs.22-24)

10. What in this text (vs.19-27) says to you that “forgetfulness” (vs.24) is more than “memory lapses?”

11. If someone “studies” the perfect law (vs.25), what are they doing to “welcome the word” (vs.21)?

12. How is it that what we’re bound to – “the perfect law, the law of freedom” (vs.25) – actually frees us up?

13. Aside from verbal encouragement (vs.22-25), what can a church do to help its members turn their beliefs into real action?

14. In your own words, sum up the three things James has warned us about being misled (vs.16-17,22,26)?

15. We live by “law” (vs.25). Given the context, why might it be important to use this specific word, “law?”

16. What are some of the blessings you’ve seen solid Christians enjoy (vs.25b) because they “walk the talk?”

17. What connect do you see between knowing God as our “Father” and what follows that description? (vs.27)

18. “True devotion” consists of much more than the two matters James mentions in vs.27. Given the context of their tests and temptations, why do you suppose James chose these two items to note?

19. Using only this text, what can we do to actively “keep the world from contaminating us?” (vs.27b)

20. What other passages in the Bible come to your mind as you read this passage (vs.19-27)?

Christ is the goal

“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire is for Israel’s salvation. That’s my prayer to God for them. I can vouch for them: they are enthusiastic about God. However, it isn’t informed by knowledge. They don’t submit to God’s righteousness because they don’t understand his righteousness, and they try to establish their own righteousness. For Christ is the goal of the Law, which leads to righteousness for all who have faith in God.” (Romans 10:1-4 CEB)

It’s a common thought in our times to equate the security of our soul’s relationship with God to the enthusiasm we feel in our heart and the energy we sense in our spirit. That is, the thinking is such that if we’re really on fire about what we believe about God, then there really can’t be any question about whether or not it’s true or if we’re pleasing God. It’s a forgone conclusion. It’s a given. We are righteous because we’re zealous. Passion equals God’s possession. Zeal means we’ve got a tight deal with God.

This passage then surely becomes one of the most sobering of texts in all of Paul’s letters. For here Paul tells us it is possible to be “enthusiastic about God” and simultaneously “not understand his righteousness.” It is quite possible – indeed, was true for a great many – to be “zealous for God” and yet not be “saved.”

Worship is more than a feeling. Being right with God isn’t about how I feel about it, but about God’s declaration of it. Christ is our goal, not intensity of emotion. The depth and intensity of my spirituality cannot be rightly measured by simply weighing how worked I am at a given moment.

No, it’s all about whether Jesus Christ is truly at the center of my life. Only first place for him will do. Second place, or any other place, only makes me an idolater and a seeker of my own sort of righteousness. To know God, that is, have a deep, abiding, intimate relationship with him through Jesus Christ, is the only road to rights standing with God and rescue from Satan, sin and self.

God my Father, in a world full of things to desensitize me to life, it’s tempting at times to see real passion or zeal as the litmus test of all things genuine. When my mind is numbed by all that is, it’s attractive to see genuine feeling as the guiding light to what is in fact truth. But you tell me otherwise. You tell me you are light and your Son is the light of this world. So may you and your Son be my excitement and may my desire to be excited and energetic never lead me away from you. May I not set up “Enthusiasm” as my god and leave you behind. For I pray in your Son’s name. Amen.

it’s both/and, not either/or

“Now that you have been set free from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:18 CEB)

Many Christians grasp the meaning of the first half of that verse. They revel in the freedom they trust the Lord has given them from all their sin and shame. They are liberated people and their joy and peace says that to everyone who knows them.

Many other believers understand the last half of that verse. They realize the living out of Christian faith is a deadly serious business. When God says he owns them now and they’re no longer to be about living life after their own will, they get it. Their singlemindedness and purposefulness signals clearly to all that they belong to God.

But few Christians, at least it seems to me, capture a good balance of both parts of this word from God. And yet, without that balance, we “have only enough religion to make us miserable.” Yes, it’s at this point right here that Satan we see Satan jimmying his crowbar back and forth in our mind.

But we must not listen to him; we must listen to the Spirit of God instead. We do not have to choose between joy and obedience. We must not choose between freedom and servanthood. We dare not separate what God has joined together.

Father God, you have claimed my allegiance now. So make me your slave, a slave that understands grace. Remind me often of what I am no longer under, all the while showing me how to offer more of myself to you. For you are my righteousness and life and you are the One who has set me free from the weights of the law and sin through your Son, in whose name I pray. Amen.