Editor’s Note: Sabbath School Lessons writer the Rev. Dr. L. Robert LaMay joined the ranks of Christ’s good and faithful servants on 29 December 2013 when he passed from this world into the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please pray for the Christian Observer as we, D.V., strive to provide the same quality of Reformed Sabbath School lessons as Dr. LaMay did so well for so many years.
James was a leader of the Jerusalem church and is thought to be a half-brother of Christ. James 1:1a reads: “James a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Galatians 2:9 further explains James’ ministry: “And when James, and Cephas, and John, knew of the grace that was given unto me, which are counted to be pillars, they gave to me and to Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should preach unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision…”
The Epistle of James was written to Jewish Christians of the diaspora, that is, the Christians within the Assyrian dispersion of the ten northern tribes and the Acts dispersion of the remaining two tribes, those of Judah and Benjamin. James 1:1b says: “…to the twelve Tribes, which are scattered abroad, salutation.” Acts 8:1, speaking of the martyrdom of Stephen, explains: “And at that time, there was a great persecution against the Church which was at Jerusalem, and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and of Samaria, except the Apostles.” Because the target audience was already mature in the faith, the epistle has an emphasis on exhortations over faith and grace.
Today’s lesson discusses the nature of true, saving faith in Jesus Christ, and how that faith manifests itself in the life of the believer.
James reminds us that God’s elect are patient, reflective, and sober minded. James 1:19 states: “Wherefore my dear brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath.” The apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13:4a reminds us similarly that “Love [agape, the unconditional love of Christ] “suffereth long…”
James additionally reminds us that wrath and contention are antithetical to the life and witness of a Christian. James 1:20 reads: “For the wrath of man doth not accomplish the righteousness of God.” Continuing, James tells us that the Christian is to set aside all evilness and carnal depravity, saying in James 1:21a, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness, and superfluity of maliciousness, …” Paul in Philippians 4: 8–9 elaborates: “Furthermore, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, or if there be any praise, think on these things. Which ye have both learned and received, and heard, and seen in me: those things do, and the God of peace shall be with you.”
James 1:21b tells us the reasons for these exhortations are so that in humility, the Christian can learn, understand, and practice in his life the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, saying: “…and receive with meekness the word that is grafted in you, which is able to save your souls.”
James 1:22 explains to us that Scripture heard impels action, or else the hearer cheats and deceives himself: “And be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” In James 2:20, it is further explained that real faith in Jesus Christ is exemplified in a life of tangible service to God and to one’s fellow man: “But wilt thou understand, O thou vain man, that the faith which is without works, is dead?” The English Puritan Richard Baxter described saving faith in Jesus Christ, saying: “There must be inward practice by meditation, and outward practice in true obedience.”
James 1:23–24 tells us that the hearer-only—that is, the pew warmer, the Sunday-only Christian—does not become aware of his own manifestations of the sin nature. “For if any hear the word, and do it not, he is like unto a man, that beholdeth his natural face in a glass. For when he hath considered himself, he goeth his way, and forgetteth immediately what manner of one he was.” James 1:25 explains that the Christian who is both a hearer and a doer demonstrates sola fide (by faith alone), as the true understanding of what the law and grace bring to true Christian liberty, a grateful and active faith, and God’s blessings: “But who so looketh in the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he not being a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, shall be blessed in his deed.”
James 1:26 admonishes the excessive practitioner of external religious ritual, whose conversation is dominated by much evil speech, that he is a hypocrite, deceiving his own soul, and making emptiness of his self-contrived faith: “If any man among you seem religious, and refraineth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” James 3:6 addresses this further when he specifically warns us of the potential evil in our speech: “And the tongue is fire, yea, a world of wickedness: so is the tongue set among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and it is set on fire of hell.” The 18th century reformer from Chester, England, Matthew Henry provides an application of this Scripture and a warning: “When we hear people ready to speak of the faults of others, or to censure them as holding scandalous errors, or to lessen the wisdom and piety of those about them, that they themselves may seem the wiser and better, this is a sign that they have but a vain religion.”
James 1:27a tells us of the practical nature of true Christian service as caring for the most needy of our neighbors: “Pure religion and undefiled before God, even the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless, and widows in their adversity, …” James 1:27b explains to us that, in contrast to external religious ritual, purity and holiness demonstrate true Christian faith: “…and to keep himself unspotted of the world.” Romans 12:2 further illustrates this principle: “And fashion not yourselves like unto this world, but be ye changed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God is.” And Philippians 2:15: “That ye may be blameless, and pure, and the sons of God without rebuke in the midst of a naughty and crooked nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world…”
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