Summary: For James, talk is cheap. If God has truly given us new life, then we should live it out.
James 1:17-27 “Works of Faith”
My understanding of what it means to be a baptized follower of Jesus Christ and member of Christ’s body has changed drastically over the (increasingly numerous) years of my life. As a child, life with Christ meant being pushed to Sunday school by my parents and forced to endure occasionally an absolutely boring worship service. As a teenager, it was being entertained, doing a lot of cool stuff, and hanging with my friends. My involvement in the church expanded and my walk with Christ has deepened, as an adult and as a pastor.
Observing adults in several states and congregations, I think it is very difficult to get beyond simply wearing the label, “Christian,” and attending worship services on a some what regular basis. There are several attractions to this type of Christianity. It doesn’t cost much. It doesn’t require much time and energy. But, our eternal salvation is taken care of and we hope that God will bless us and answer our prayers when we are in need.
This style of Christianity is not confined to the boarders of the United States, nor is it really a modern times development. James addresses an easy faith in his letter. In his letter, the reader discovers that James has an entirely different concept of what it means to be a baptized follower of Jesus Christ and a member of Christ’s body. His vision of the Christian life is explained in today’s text.
One of the first ideas James shares with his readers that Jesus gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
If you have grown up on a farm, or tended a garden you understand the concept of first fruits. First fruits were the first “fruit” produced by trees, bushes, stalks, and animals. They are special for several reasons.
• In the Bible, the first 10 percent of a harvest was given as an offering to God. James intimates that as first fruits our lives are an offering to God. We are a thank offering to God for what God has done in our world and in our lives. Our lives are to be lived glorifying God and serving him. This is certainly a far cry from simply wearing the title “Christian.”
• Personally I think the first fruits are the best produce of the harvest. Maybe it’s because first fruits are usually anticipated for a year. I remember savoring the first snap peas, carrots and raspberries. Through us, people are able to sample God’s love, grace and savor what life in God’s kingdom is like. There is a missional quality to our lives—we go out into the world to reach people and change lives.
• First fruits are a promise of what it to come. Tasting that first orange or grapefruit encourages us to look up at the trees around us and image an abundant harvest. As first fruits, we are a sign that we are not the last of what God does. Rather we are a foretaste of what is to come. We are harbingers of hope.
THE LAW OF LIBERTY
Growing up I believed that Christianity was a list of do’s and don’ts, with an emphasis on don’ts. It was almost to the point that if it felt good, or looked fun and or exciting it had to be bad.
James reminds us that because of the forgiveness of our sins and our new relationship with God, though the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can live in the law of liberty. Jesus said that the greatest of the commandments was, “To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
These commandments set us free to accomplish them in a variety of ways. Loving God is much more than simply not doing a list of items. We can love the Lord abundantly, creatively, and in ways that will stretch our imaginations. We can do the same as we love our neighbors. The emphasis is transferred from the don’t to the do.
James ends this passage with a practical vision of what pure, or true, religion is. Pure religion is a life of service and commitment.
James isn’t putting down the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, meditation, worship, fellowship, and prayer. He would understand that these practices enable us to hear God’s word. James wants his readers to not only be hearers, but also doers.
Pure religion is service. It involves reaching out, touching the lives of others, and ministering to their needs. It is walking our talk; putting our money where our mouth is. Pure religion is allowing our faith to become incarnate in our daily lives and thus in the world in which we live.