There are some misconceptions surrounding this book, and maybe that is why many modern-day teachers avoid it. Can Jesus be found in James? Well, let’s see… we saw the connection with the Sermon on the Mount a while back; remember the chart? Every verse from James 1:2 through James 5:18 has a direct parallel in the Sermon on the Mount… and commentators say Jesus isn’t in James… that only leaves three verse without a direct parallel!
Does James really stress works over faith? Now be careful before you say that he does, remember the parallel with the Sermon on the Mount! If you’ve followed these posts you have seen that James teaches that salvation comes by faith, and that as Christians we put that faith into action, which is exactly what Jesus taught. It is true that James hasn’t used the “magic words” of certain teachers who came along centuries later, but the essence is the same, for there is no conflict between faith and works, unless you manufacture one yourself.
Here’s What I Think…
James gives us a whole bunch of moral teachings and then places priority on our relationship with Christ through intercessory prayer for one another: Love in action. Jesus said that the whole Law and prophets were fulfilled in the command to love your neighbor as yourself; James demonstrated this principle in action. If you approach Scripture the way many theologians do, you are looking for proof texts to plug into your systematic theology chart, and you miss this treasure “hidden” in the book of James.
Some commentators have claimed that James is a legalistic book, are they right?
Personally, I don’t think so, but I can see why they say it. There seems to be an impulse in some traditions to assert rules and even condemnation of others at every opportunity, and James gives these good folks a great deal of highly quotable material, as long as context isn’t an issue for them… and context in James isn’t as easy to identify as it is in other places. My real question relates not so much to James as it does to the impulse to make rules to hold others accountable to.
Here’s another way of saying this: Why is it that some Christians read the Scriptures and see faith in terms of ordinances and violations while others see love and our response to love?
Obviously I’m not the first to ask this sort of question, and just as obviously I won’t be the last to have a stab at it, if nothing else I hope to encourage you to give this a though or two. In the next post, I’ll share mine…