Summary: Christians have a special counter cultural calling - not to live a back biting life but a life close to God.

James 3:13-4:8

The apostle James writes, in his epistle:

13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German theologian and pastor, who was imprisoned in 1943 for his political and Christian opposition to the Nazi regime, was executed in 1945 two years later.

On the day that the sentence was carried out he conducted a service for the other prisoners.

One of those prisoners, an English officer who survived, wrote these words:

”Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident, and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive... He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God

was real and always near...

On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the heart of all of us.

He found just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment, and the thoughts and resolutions it had brought us.

He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered.

They said, "Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us."

That had only one meaning for all prisoners--the gallows. We said good-bye to him.

He took me aside: "This is the end; but for me it is the beginning of life."

The next day he was hanged in Flossenburg.”la

Bonhoeffer showed his faith in Jesus by the way he lived and died.

He walked the walk – he didn’t just talk the talk!

And practical faith one of the main features of the book of James from which our first reading was taken.

But the book of James has had its critics.

The Great German Reformer Martin Luther called it an “epistle of straw” because he saw James as standing for justification by “Good Works” against Paul who proclaimed a Gospel of Faith rather than a Gospel of Works

But actually St Paul does speak of the importance of good works in the life of faith when he says (in Ephesians 2:8-10)

For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is God’s gift. It is not from works so that no one can boast: for we are his formation, created as we are in Christ Jesus for GOOD WORKS which God previously prepared for us to enjoy life in them (Eph 2:8-10 Berkley)

If you read James carefully you will see there is no dichotomy between James’ Gospel, and Paul’s Gospel.

Both are Gospels of faith.

James fleshes it out by saying that works result from your faith.

What do we know about the book of James?

Who wrote it? To whom was it addressed?

1. Authorship

It is generally accepted in the Early Church that

James was the brother of Jesus who became

the leader of the Jerusalem Church before his martyrdom in AD 62.

It was the same James who gave the definitive judgement at the first Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15.

The only other contender was James, one of the inner Three of the 12 apostles who was martyred in AD 44 and so really could not have been the author.

2. His readership

James in his epistle is speaking to Jewish believers. In Jas 1:1 he addresses his letter to

“The twelve tribes scattered among the nations”

And the aim of his letter is to remind Jewish Christians, wherever they are, of how they are to live a Christian life.

And we see a strong link between James teaching and Jesus teaching.

For example James says in Chapter 2 of his epistle

8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbour as yourself," you are doing right. (Jas 2:8)

And we can see echoes of Jesus words in Mt 22:36-40 where Jesus said . 39And the second (commandment) is like it: ’Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

This morning’s passage from James makes uncomfortable reading. James is very forthright when he says about the Christians he is writing to: He says this.

14But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

We live in a society where it is the “in thing” to complain - things annoy and irritate.

People dwell on the bad, the hurtful, and unfair aspects of life. They look at life through the lens of a miserable attitude, making themselves more miserable and everyone around them miserable.

Yet James encourages us not to live that way.

Backbiting is not a hallmark of Christian living.

But for many of us – that is easy to say – and harder to do.

It just seems to come naturally out of us. And I am no exception. But James doesn’t just point us to the problem, he offers us a solution when he says:

“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you (Jas 4:8)

I had a saying written in one of my Bibles:

“Dirty Christian clean Bible

Clean Christian dirty Bible.”

A bit trite you might say but with much truth in it.

The more time we devote to spending with God in prayer and his word the Bible the more Christlike we will become.

Spending time with God will rub off. You will reflect him to others.

I’d like to leave you with a poem from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that was written during his time in prison called “Wer bin ich?” Bonhoeffer had every reason to be bitter and miserable – a Nazi concentration camp was a ghastly place to be in when you were a political prisoner – as Bonhoeffer was. Yet in prison, with his life on the line daily he wrote this:

Yet in prison, with his life on the line daily he wrote this:

Who am I? They often tell me

I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me

I bore the days of misfortune

Equally, smilingly, proudly,

Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which

other men tell of?

Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick, like

a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath, as though

hands were compressing my throat,

Yearning for colours, for flowers, for

the voices of birds,

Thirsting for words of kindness, for


Tossing in expectation of great


Powerlessly trembling for friends at

an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at

thinking, at making,

Faint, and ready to say farewell to

it all?

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today and

tomorrow another?

Am I both at once?

A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly

woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like

a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory

already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these

lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest,

O God, I am Thine!

Life was unfair for Bonhoeffer. He had every reason to be miserable and moan.

Yet he chose to NOT to bewail his miserable lot

Rather he spent time with God and fixed his gaze towards heaven.

Bonhoeffer’s words were not written from the comfort of an ivory tower but his faith was forged in the pit of hell – Buchenwald and Flossenburg

Can I read you again the testimony of the English Officer at Bonhoeffer’s last service.

”Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident, and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive... He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God

was real and always near...

If only that could be said of me!