Life Lessons from Hard Times – Studies in James
Mercy Over Judgment (Part 2)
In even the most simple analysis, we are born and grow, we increase in size and stature – hopefully with wisdom – and we (and our parents) have as an end goal for us a responsible and independent-living adult making contributions to life – and for sure, in the Kingdom of God.
This is part and parcel with the normal maturing process. Such is the case with our text today. And the core issue is giving mercy because of who we are and to whom we belong.
James wrote this early epistle to believers, to those who were facing challenges in their community and in the church, all with the life goal of growing up. The issue was not reviewing again what it took to be born again – that is a given in this book – but how do we grow up as Christians. We are told we are in a testing process with hard times, that we are pressing toward the goal and crown of divine approval for a life lived well, avoiding moral missteps, and caring for those in need – all of which receives the word implanted which is able to save you (1:21). James is not addressing eternal destiny in a primary sense, but, with every line of context so far in this book, bringing in life lessons which guide us to spiritual maturity. Our dear brother Martin Luther misunderstood this section completely, calling James a ‘right strawy epistle’ because of this section.
James 2:14-17 14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If 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? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
This amazing biblical book gives us three examples of how living rightly grows us up – saving our life, moving to maturity, by obedience.
1. The absence of obedience – Claims of faith without action, without works, have no value and lead to and are dead. Again, this is nothing in the context that speaks of eternal redemption and being born again. Everything here speaks of the absolute requirement of needing to see obedience as an example of life. Nothing else makes sense. This is the only way to avoid the death-dealing effects of sin. James 1:15: Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.
2. Christian living always measured in practical terms of giving mercy. It is not thinkable in the Christian church that we utter token blessings or verbal assurances while at the same time denying the basic needs around us. Go, be fed, be warmed, and yet hold back the food and clothing we have. Do you remember our definition of the Good Samaritan defining our neighbor as the following: we are to give to others whose need we see and whose need we can meet. Nothing less. Any other words or actions are hollow. See James 1:27, visiting widows and orphans in their distress.
3. One final caution – Avoid salvation litmus tests. We too often, judgmentally, try to jump to a conclusion of who is and who is not a Christian. The Bible warns against this analysis: 2 Timothy 2:19 19Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The LORD knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the LORD must turn away from wickedness.”
No wonder this is in a section of Mercy Triumphs over Judgment! The phrase “keep on keeping on” says it well. We are in a marathon not a sprint, and we each have the obligation and goal of obedience and faith and works that demonstrate our faith. God’s best to you this week.
– John Moore