Faithlife Corporation
Notes & Transcripts

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our song – Amen

James writes…

Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. (1:22)

and … If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. (1:26)


How many of you come out to church on Sunday morning for worthless religion?

How many of you are want to be part of something, want to commit your precious weekend time, your hard earned leisure time, to something that is of no value at all?

Well, according to James, the brother of Jesus – that is exactly what it is, if you are not a “doer” of the word

Coke often has advertisements that use the phrase, “the real thing.”

You get the message that “you want the real thing. The real Coke”

So it is with our spirituality, our faith-walk, our Christianity: we want to find the real thing

James takes a hard line position on the message of being a “doer” of the word

Is James right? … does James matter at all?

Is the letter of James of any value to the church – the people of God?

            Does it matter what we ‘do’ with our faith?

Many evangelicals, which are the foundation of this church, make claims that our faith is what matters – and more to point – you may hear some ask the question something like “when where you saved?”  OR “When did you accept Jesus in your heart?”

That sounds a lot like salvation is connected to what we believe – to our faith - Where does that fit with James and the ‘epistle of doing’

Well, let’s work through some contextual stuff

We are now at the beginning of a series of NT readings on the Book of James.

There will be five weeks which focus on the Book of James, and so some understand of James is important.

Our contextual material will start with James himself

This week, in my preparations I came across some material that said succinctly, precisely what I wanted to say – so I have borrowed from that material

It comes from Pastor Edward F. Markquart, who has been the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, since l973. This congregation is one of the largest worshipping congregations on the West coast. The congregation is known for its many and varied ministries. Pastor Markquart’s primary gift is his preaching, and he has made his material available to share it with as many people as possible.

James, the brother of Jesus, is REALLY important in the New Testament. Why?

James, the brother of Jesus, saw the RISEN Christ.

The Apostle Paul tells us that the Risen Christ appeared to Peter, the 500, to James and all the apostles. (I Corinthians 15:5-8).

The name of James is at the top of the list.

James, the brother of Jesus, was one of the first three pillars of the early church.

In Galatians 2, Paul writes of - James, Peter, and John. (Galatians 2:9)

James was listed first, BEFORE the names of Peter and John.

You have to be MIGHTY important when your name is listed before Peter and John.

Not only was James the first pillar of the earliest church in Jerusalem, we hear other stories in the New Testament about James. Some examples:

- We recall that when Peter miraculously escaped from prison, he specifically wanted James informed as to what happened (Acts 12:17).

- We recall that when the first Christians in Jerusalem were having a big conference about whether or not Gentile people needed to be circumcised, it was James who guided the answer (Acts 15:13ff).

- We recall when Paul arrived in Jerusalem with a fistful of money to give to the poor in Jerusalem, it is Paul who met him at the door and advised Paul to first go and cleanse himself at the temple (Acts 21:18ff.)

- We recall when Paul showed up in Jerusalem after his conversion, he visited Simon Peter for fifteen days and saw none of the apostles other than James, the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:18-19)

In other words, James, the brother of Jesus, was THE primary leader of the earliest church in Jerusalem.

I am simply telling you that James, the brother of Jesus, was a VIP, a very important person, in the Early Church,

Yet we almost never heard sermons about him.

Why not, why are there so few sermons about him?

One reason might be because James is mentioned only once in the four gospels

Albeit, James is important in the Book of Acts and letters of the Apostle Paul

Another reason is that there is a perception that Protestant theology clashes with James

In particular, it clashes with one of the key founding figures of the Protestant Reformation – Martin Luther

Martin Luther did not like the book of James.

Martin Luther said that the epistle of James was an epistle of straw. He writes

It was easily consumed by fire, and when the straw was burned away, you did not have the pure gold nugget, the gospel, remaining.

In other words, the Book of James did not have the gold nugget, the pure gospel and therefore it was not worth much.

Why was James nothing but straw to Luther?

The first reason that Luther did not like the book of James is that Christ is not emphasized

The words, Jesus Christ, is mentioned only twice in the whole book.

- There is not one mention of the cross.

- There is not one mention of Jesus dying on the cross to pay for our sins.

- There is not one mention of baptism, that he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.

- There is not one mention of the word grace and what grace means.

In James, there is no Christ, no grace, no atonement, no death on the cross, no baptism.

Why else did Luther have such immense disregard for the book of James?

Second, because of its emphasis on works.

Luther, like the Apostle Paul, emphasized that we are put right with God and justified by God through God’s grace, through faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law.

James, on the other hand, seems to say that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

James emphasized works. You need to do works in order to be a Christian.

Now, if you combine the two problems; that is, there is no mention of Jesus Christ and instead there is only talk about works, people could draw the false conclusion that a person is saved by works. 

I can understand that.

Even so, I have to admit to all my Lutheran-leaning friends, that I like the Book of James.

And I have believe that many of you probably also appreciate the Book of James because of its basic practicality - down to earth, real life, practical implications of being a Christian.

Now, I realize that James does not have the spiritual depth of Paul.

There is no Christ, no atonement - no Christ has died for our sins, no forgiveness and no grace.

Yet, I still see relevance in the Book of James for our personal lives and the life of this congregation.

I like the Book of James for a couple of reasons.

First, because it is a book of action - Be doers of the word… Be doers who act…

And not just a listener who listens. Not just a thinker who thinks.

Not just a talker who talks.

Not just a believer who believes.

Not just prayer who prays.

But be a believer in Christ who gets things done for the kingdom of God.

I like that.

You see, I am an activist person. I like doing things. I like to get things done.

I can’t stand to be part of a group that just talks, Plans, Process, or Organizes, and never does anything but talk, plan, process and organize.

I have been part of those types of groups and it can drives me crazy

I like to get things done.

So James is an activist book, and so I like the Book of James because of that.

So when James says in the epistle for today,

“Do not be hearers who look into a mirror and forget;… but be doers who act. They will be blessed by their doing.”

I like that in James because I think of myself as being a doing person.

But I also like the book of James because I believe that it is a corrective to our Protestant theology and heritage.

Our Protestant strength is also our Protestant weakness.

Protestants, from Luther’s teaching, strongly believe in faith in Christ and not works.

We strongly preach “Christ alone”, “grace alone”, “faith alone”

For centuries, we have shouted, “A person is saved by grace and not by works lest any person should boast.”

We have said these words so often and so persistently we often come to the false conclusion that works of charitable love are not that important.

That is a false conclusion…..

A Christian cannot separate faith from works of charitable love, from deeds of charitable love.

Just as you cannot separate my head from my body, without both dying, you cannot separate faith from works of charitable love.

You cannot do that. To separate the body from the head kills both the body and the head.

The same is true with faith and works of charitable love.

If you separate them, they both die. 

Now, down deep, James and the Apostle Paul/Luther are saying the same thing.

The Apostle Paul said that you cannot separate faith from charitable love.

The Apostle Paul says that true and genuine faith is active in charitable love, or love for the poor.

The Apostle Paul uses the word, agape, for charitable love.

In Paul, we hear about agape love; that is, love for the poor and suffering.

It would have been so much easier if Paul had said that genuine faith is active in family love. 

That sounds better, more palatable…. Family love.

I have a great family and I am a family man

If Paul would have said, genuine faith is to be active in family love, he would have easily gotten my vote. ….

Or, if the Apostle Paul had said, let genuine faith be active in friendship love, and brotherly love, I would have liked that.

I have many good friends. I love my friends.

I wish that the Apostle Paul would have said that genuine faith is active in friendship love because I would have easily done that.  ….

But the Apostle Paul did not say that. The Apostle Paul said, “let faith be active in charitable love.”

The word, charitable, is the Greek word for agape love. It is love for the poor, the widows, the orphans, for the oppressed and starving people of life.

The Apostle Paul says that you cannot separate genuine faith from acts of charitable love.

You cannot separate genuine faith from the love of people who are suffering, poor, and starving.

If faith does not result in charitable love, you don’t have faith.

You cannot separate the head from the body or both will die.

Now, James says the same thing. James says that true faith is active in works of love for the orphans, widows, and the needy.

In today’s NT lesson he says, “Now this is true religion.”

The word, religion, by the way, does not refer religion as we might think of it,

But it refers to the worship. Worship.

Alternatively, the Greek word for religion is liturgy.

Which has been defined as the “work of the people”

Liturgy is the way you worship God.

James says, “Now this is true worship.”

Not that you say your hail marys. Not that you use your prayer beads.

Not that you go to mass. Not that you go to worship on Sunday morning at 10:30 and do the same liturgical formula on Sunday.

No. None of this is true worship.

None of this is true worship. True liturgy, true worship is this: that you care for orphans and orphans in their suffering, and you remain unstained from the world.

“Now, that is true liturgy”. That is true worship of God.

That is the real thing,

And you and I want ‘the real thing’ in our Christian faith…

We don’t want our religion to be worthless

Looking back into the context of the text

Why? Why were the people in James’ congregation separating faith in Christ from charitable love?

You see, there has always been this problem in the church of not doing works of charitable love for the widows and the orphans of the world.

For James, a major problem in his church, was that he was part of a wealthy congregation.

There were many wealthy people in his congregation and it was a rich church.

In this short little book called James, there are five paragraphs which all negative about wealthy Christians.

Many of the members of these wealthy Christian congregations wanted to just believe.

They did not want to go and do good for the widow and the orphan.

Pound for pound. Page for page. Paragraph for paragraph. There are more statements against wealthy Christians in the book of James than any other book in the New or Old Testament - more statements against wealthy congregations in that little book than in any other place in the Bible.

You see, these wealthy congregations wanted to believe and say, “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I like going to church. Jesus, I love worshipping you. Jesus, I love seeing all my friends”

            And these wealthy Christians in James’ congregation did not have true liturgy.

They did not have true worship. They did not have the real thing.

Jesus had a similar problem with the Pharisees.

The Pharisees went to their synagogues every Friday night. They tithed. They knew their Bible very well. They dropped coins into the almsgiving pot.

BUT…they did not care for the poor, the widows, the prostitutes, the beggars, the blind, the lepers, and all the other outcasts of society who were suffering.

That was the problem. They did not have true liturgy. They did not have true worship. They did not have the real thing. 

We find this problem not only in James. Not only in Jesus. But in the prophets of the Old Testament. Amos, Micah, Hosea, Isaiah said the same thing:

“Do not oppress the orphan, the widow, the stranger who live among you…”

All rituals and all liturgical sacrifices are worthless without constant charitable love, justice and kindness.”

We recall that when the Apostle Paul visited Jerusalem he said, "James, Peter and John asked only one thing, that we remember the poor”

The persistent problem for James, Paul, the Old Testament prophets and Jesus.

Is the same problem that persists today.

Today, Christians often separate faith in Jesus Christ from deeds and actions of charitable love.

And so James – the epistle writer of straw – the epistle of doing

The book in the bible that Luther said should be removed from the bible

We have James bringing home an important message for all to know

            Bringing it home in clear practical language


Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. (1:22)

“Do not be hearers who look into a mirror and forget;… but be doers who act. They will be blessed by their doing.”

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.


The real thing is not merely faith in our heads – but faith in all we are – in all we do

            As Jeremy emphasized two weeks ago – Sunday morning Christians is not what God wants

God wants us to be authentic in our faith – Authentic in our believing – Authentic in our doing

            God wants us to walk the talk

Maybe one of the ways, that we, as a community of faith, can walk the talk

            Is to have a mission project that runs parallel and is tied to our Building project

Maybe we could consider tithing, according to the cost of the project, for an outreach mission project

We will have a beautiful building once it is all complete, of that, I am sure and very pleased, and it will serve our church community and be inviting to the community outside the church, for certain – but maybe we could look even further out than that?

When I was growing up I went to an Anglican church that was not the typical Anglican church

            It was a happy clappy Anglican church

                        And one of my favourite songs that we sung, had the line

                                    “They will know we are Christians by our Love”

                                                The underscore is that - Christianity expressed - is Love lived out

Maybe the strength of James is not a message of the character of God

But Our character response to God

Another song we sung often, was a musical version of St Francis of Assisi prayer

            And I believe that it is a very full message of Christian life and a fitting prayer to finish with

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love;             where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light  and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be

understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.            Amen.

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