Sunday School Lesson
sept. 14, 2003
FAITH AND ACTION
Bible Background—JAMES 1:19-2:26; 5:7-20
Focal Verses—JAMES 1:22-27; 2:8-9, 14-17; 5:13-16
Devotional Reading—MATTHEW 7:21-27
1. We will understand how true faith is best demonstrated through work
2. We will understand the effectiveness of the passionate prayers of righteous people
3. We will determine to faithfully obey GOD in all situations.
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22).
This lesson deals with our words, our thoughts, and our deeds. The guide to our actions should be the WORD of GOD.
By way of background, the Book of James has been described by some as the Proverbs of the New Testament. In truth, James is a New Testament example of wisdom literature, just as Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes are Old Testament examples. Wisdom literature covers the entire gamut of human life and life’s situations. Our knowledge of GOD enables us to act wisely when confronted with the trials of life.
From the very beginning, love for GOD was always demonstrated by obedience to HIS WORD. Even GOD did not simply announce HIS LOVE for humanity, HE demonstrated that love by sacrificing HIS only SON to purchase our redemption (John 3:16). By the same token, a person’s claim to love and trust GOD must be accompanied by visible actions.
In James’s letter to believers throughout the known world, he challenges them (and us) to not merely profess a Christian life, but to live it.
1. THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH (James 1:22-27)
Love and faith are similar in that they are both evidenced by action. Love is made evident through giving. GOD demonstrated the greatest act of love when HE gave HIS only SON as an eternal sacrifice on our behalf (John 3:16). Faith, on the other hand, is best evidenced through obedient service. Scripture commands us to act in faith. For instance, if we truly believe that “all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33b, NIV), then our response should be to “seek first HIS kingdom and HIS righteousness” (Matthew 6:33a, NIV).
James sets forth a series of commands that will not only lead believers into a more satisfying life but also allow them to demonstrate their faith in the promises of GOD. The first of these commands is, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19), NIV).
What is it that GOD wants us to be quick to hear? The answer is GOD’S WORD. GOD wants us to consider HIS WORD before we speak. This strategy of life is only effective for believers because “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the SPIRIT of GOD, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14, NIV). However, the HOLY SPIRIT indwells believers. He helps us to study GOD’S WORD and then teaches us how to apply it to our lives (see John 16:12-15).
If we study GOD’S WORD during times of tranquility, the HOLY SPIRIT will bring it back to our memory during times of trials. GOD’S WORD that the HOLY SPIRIT plants in our hearts will lead us to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” (James 1:21, NIV). However, the key to growing in CHRIST is faithful obedience to the WORD we hear. During trying times, there are really only two choices for believers. They will either obey GOD or yield to their own desires. That is why the Book of James commands us, “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (v.22, NIV).
Here we are presented with a picture of a man who goes to church and attentively listens to the WORD being taught and preached. However, this man does not understand that what is preached in the church must be lived in the world. He is a carnal Christian who, in times of trouble, will yield to the desires of his flesh without considering GOD’S WORD. This man “is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and…immediately forgets what he looks like” (vv.23-24, NIV). The man sees that he has not made himself presentable. Then he turns away from the mirror and forgets what he has seen and goes away thinking that all is well.
GOD’S WORD reveals our faults so that we can know how GOD wants us presentable as HIS representatives on earth. That is why “the man who looks intently into the perfect law…not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does” (v.25, NIV). The law James is discussing here is not the Mosaic Law; it is the “law of liberty.” In other words, it is the law of grace that sets men free from the bondage of sin. It says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15, NIV).
True religion is much more than the practice of rituals and tradition. It is evidenced by an internal change in a person’s life. A bridled tongue is one indication of this relationship. A bridle is an instrument that riders use to guide horses. In the same way, the HOLY SPIRIT guides and directs believers in their actions and in their reactions to the situations of life. Further, true religion is not just what takes place in church on Sunday but how one conducts oneself outside of church during the rest of the week.
2. THE ACTIONS OF FAITH (2:8-9, 14-17)
The first half of James chapter 2 is a passionate plea to reject favoritism James illustrates the teaching by comparing the treatment of a rich man and a poor man who enter the church. James’ Jewish readers were somehow able to show partiality toward the rich man while ignoring the poor one. Favoritism is wrong for several reasons: it insults people, it is hypocritical, it is the result of selfish motivations, and it is inconsistent with Christian teaching.
The argument against partiality is the royal law, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8, NIV). Verse 8 and 9 are two conditional sentences: “if” you really keep the royal law, you are doing well, “but if” you show favoritism, you are sinning. To keep or fulfill the royal law means to put it into practice. The royal law is the law of our LORD, who challenged us to “love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12, NIV).
The royal law (originally stated in Leviticus 19:18) is the basic teaching on how people are to relate to one another. JESUS reinforced this teaching when the Pharisees asked HIM, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” JESUS responded by first quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5, which explains our relationship to GOD: “Love the LORD your GOD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” HE then quoted the royal law: “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV).
Our LORD ended HIS teaching on this subject by telling the Pharisees that, “All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (v.40, NIV). Therefore, HE could confidently say “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers (James 2:9, NIV). James’s point is that if you break any part of the law, you are guilty of breaking the whole law. The truth is that a person may be righteous in nearly all respects but spoil himself by one fault. According to the law, a person who demonstrates prejudice through favoritism or discrimination is no different from a murderer.
The second half of Chapter 2 explains how faith is not real without corresponding deeds. If one has true faith in GOD, then he must be a “doer” and not just a “hearer” of the WORD (see 1:22).
Many people claim to have faith, but they fail when their faith is tested. James challenges us to confirm our “verbal faith” with action. A person who claims to have faith should have corresponding works to justify his claim. It is faith in CHRIST and not works that justify the believer; however, it is works that demonstrate faith. The writer of Hebrews makes the relationship clear: “By faith Abel offered GOD a better sacrifice” (Hebrews 11:4, NIV), “by faith Noah…built an ark to save his family” (v.7, NIV), “by faith Abraham…made his home in the promised land like a stranger” (vv.8-9, NIV), and by faith he “offered Isaac as a sacrifice” (v.7, NIV). The list goes on, but the key here is that each mention of faith is accompanied by an action. It is clear that James is not arguing that works are a means of attaining salvation but that works are a natural product of saving faith.
The Bible challenges the legitimacy of any faith that does not produce fruit (cf. Matthew 7:16-20). To illustrate this point, James gives us a hypothetical situation: suppose you meet a poor, hungry person and say to him, “I wish you well, be full and warm.” However, you do nothing to help the poor soul. Is this really charity? Likewise, is faith without corresponding works real faith? The answer is a resounding, “No!” “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17, NIV).
3. THE PRAYER OF FAITH (5:13-16)
James concludes his letter to the church in Diaspora with how to react during times of trouble, happiness, and sickness. He begins by addressing those who are being tested: “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.” The word “troubled” or afflicted” refers to calamity or hardships of various kinds. Our natural response during these troubling times is to grumble, complain, or blame someone for our difficulties. However, Scripture teaches that believers should always resort to prayer when things get rough. The Psalmist said, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry” (Psalm 34:15, NIV). Crying out to the LORD in prayer should be the believer’s first response to trouble. Our prayers should be specific, based on faith, and consistent. The point of JESUS’ parable of the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-7) is that people should be persistent in prayer until prayer is answered.
James asked another question, “Is anyone happy? If the answer is yes, then “let him sing songs of praise.” Happiness, in this case, does not imply freedom from trouble. Rather, it suggests an inner peace that comes from knowing that GOD loves you and will bring you through whatever challenge you happen to be facing. When one feels this inner joy, the response should be to burst out in songs of praise. The verb for “sing praise” originally meant to play the harp, but by the time of James’s writing, it meant to sing praises with or without music. The phrase is most often applied to public worship services (see 1 Corinthians 14:15 and Ephesians 5:19); in this case, however, it seems to apply to both public and private worship. The best example of this is seen in Acts 16:25, where Paul and Silas’s response to being thrown into prison was to burst out in songs of praise. The key here is that believers should face all situations, good or bad, by turning to prayer and lifting GOD up in praise.
In the final question, James turns from general to more specific suffering. The word “sick” in verse 14 conveys the idea of illnesses that incapacitate people for work. Although the word is used primarily for physical ailments, it can also denote mental, emotional, or spiritual disorders. In this case, James is referring primarily to physical sickness. It should be normal practice for a believer to go to the church leaders for prayer during times of illnesses. One key points of this passage is that no believer should suffer alone. It is the sick person’s responsibility to seek prayer and the elder’s responsibility to pray the prayer of faith.
James assures us that “the prayer of the righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NIV). The word “prayer” in this verse refers to specific petitions. These petitions must come from righteous people--specifically, those who have a right relationship with GOD as a result of the sacrifice of CHRIST and who practice righteous living in their daily lives. The faithful prayers of righteous people are effective because of their power to accomplish the miraculous.
The believer’s most powerful source of communion with GOD is prayer; the surest sign of faith and dependence on GOD. Obedience, work, and prayer are evidence of our faith in GOD and the keys to prosperous, full lives in CHRIST.
Rev. Chris Lowe, Sr., DD
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