Summary: The old argument between Paul and James, faith or works, is really two sides of the same coin. Both are needed for a church’s life to be whole. Preached on a Sunday when members were asked to sign up for various ministries.
The funny thing about arguments is that two people can use all the same information and can come out on exactly the opposite ends of the argument. Two different people, just because they are different personalities, can read the same data, hear all the same pros and cons, examine all the same facts, and then conclude exact opposites from one another.
That may mean that neither of them is right or wrong. It just means that they are different, that they are both seeking the same truth. You really need to hear both of them to get the complete picture.
Two people can use all the same information and can come out at exactly the opposite ends of a debate, just because of their own personal styles. Neither is simply right or wrong; both of them, usually, have the truth, expressed in their own ways. But you need to hear from both of them to get it all.
A friend of mine and I were both shopping for cars at about the same time a number of years ago. Now shopping for a car is one of the tasks I absolutely hate. I know that there are plenty of folks who love doing that and like to think they are getting a steal on wheels. Frankly, I hate it. But that does mean I’ll do as thorough a job as I can do. I will research the consumer reports, I will read all the mechanical magazines, I will calculate probable miles per gallon, I will check with the insurance agents … I’ll do it all. Because what I want in the end is the most car for the least amount of money possible. If you want the name for that, I think they call it "cheap".
Well, so did my friend. He read all the consumer reports. He studied the mechanical magazines. He did his calculations, he even got bids from insurance companies. He was looking for economy too.
When it was all over, I bought a little blue Plymouth Horizon - - an econobox. Some of you remember it; in fact one of our members took one look at it and said, "We’ll have to get you out of that!" But my friend bought a Mercedes-Benz. We used exactly the same information, we had the same goals in mind, but we came out at exactly opposite poles.
I wanted economy, but I wanted it right here, right now. And I got it. But when the car didn’t last but about seven years, I could barely get anybody to give me a dime for it. He wanted economy too, but in the long haul. And his car ran for years and when he sold it was worth more money than when he bought it! We argued from two different personalities, and you really needed to hear both of us to get the full truth.
I suspect that the famous New Testament argument, if that’s what it is, between the apostles Paul and James is much like that. They are approaching an issue from two different angles, and they sound very different. They even use the same information in order to build their divergent arguments. But if you put them together you will have the truth.
To put it succinctly, Paul and James are like a coin toss. One is heads and the other is tails, but they are just the two sides of the same coin.
Paul wants to convince us that the only way we can be brought into relationship with God is through faith. He wants to destroy the notion that we can work our way into heaven and try to be so good that God just has to give us salvation. So he says it like this, using the story of Abraham:
Romans 4: 1 -5, 16
But it wasn’t long after Paul’s pointed words got into circulation that along came James, and it surely does sound like a vigorous debate. You can almost see James wagging his finger at Paul, as if to say, "Paul, you’ve gone off the deep end. Let’s get real".
Take that, Paul!
I have observed that some of us tend to be Paul Christians and others of us are inclined to be James Christians. Actually we are just heads or tails, just two sides of the same coin. And we need each other to get to the real truth.
Some of us feel very committed to spiritual growth, and to prayer. Some of us feel as though the real work of the church is worship and Bible study, prayer and preaching, sharing our faith and helping people get committed to Christ. Some of us think the church is at its best when men and women, boys and girls, enter the waters of baptism and begin spiritual journeys. Paul Christians are inclined to believe that the resources of Christian missions need to be poured into things which are spiritual and which lead to an experience of forgiveness and of grace.