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