The Book of James, Works, Not Words, Justify You Before Men, James 2:14-3:1 - Lesson 13
We are studying a part of the book of James that concerns his great desire for professors of Christ to be possessors of Christ.
James knows that many are filled with words about their faith but James confronts those who make a profession based upon words with a statement that those with true faith, those who possess Christ, will evidence that faith by doing good works.
The words of James are pleading words, words that agree with Paul who cautioned the Corinthians to Examine themselves whether or not they were in the faith.
Now that examination was to be more than examining words that were said, words for instance that are said in some denominationís ceremony such as a childís first communion, or words that testify of a salvation experience.
Paul cautioned Timothy to study to show himself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed.
Notice that he uses that term workman for Paul knew that a possessor of Christ would be a workman.
Those four men who lowered their friend from the roof were workmen for we know that Mark reported that in this act Jesus saw their faith.
And Jesus proved his own faith to the imprisoned John the Baptist when he told him to know that the blind could now see, the lame could now walk, the lepers were no longer lepers, and the poor had the gospel preached to them.
He told the Jews who would not believe his word, to focus on his works and believe them.
We read of this in John 10:37, If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. 38But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.
Jesus verified that works mean something and that they reveal to other men whether or not a manís faith is a faith that derives from God.
James then brings into the argument those who try to convince others by words alone that they have true faith.
James will have none of that for he knows that Jesus gave to us the measure by which we are to know one anotherís faith.
And that measure is not in words.
Verses 18 and 19, Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. 19Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
So he says to the one who claims faith.
It is good that you profess to believe that there is one God.
That is a right and true belief.
But it doesnít prove whether or not you have saving faith.
Think about Satanís cohorts.
They know without a doubt that there is one God but all would have to agree that they are not, nor will they ever be saved.
So saying that you are saved and actually being saved do not necessarily follow.
James does not stop with this argument so he brings Abraham, known to the Jew as the Father of Faith, to his court of ideas.
Verses 20-24, But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
James connects the word "justified" to the word "works."
But we know from scripture that Abraham was justified by faith when he believed Godís promise that he would have a child in spite of what reason told him.
Abraham believed God and he was called a believer before he did any works.
Abraham is not called the Father of Faith without reason for Abraham is the norm, Abraham, is the pattern.
Salvation has always been by grace through faith, absolutely apart from any works, for any trace of works mixed with grace makes grace null and void.
But James writes that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar.
This word "justified" in this context means to regard as just, to think upon as righteous.
The justification that James speaks of is not the "justification" of salvation by faith, but rather the justification or validation of his profession of faith before men.
It is that which is displayed to men in order for men to reach a conclusion about another manís faith.
James also brings into this argument a women who certainly would not have been considered a believer because of her profession for Rahab was a harlot, a prostitute of Jericho.
James says in verses 25 and 26, Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Rahab would never find acceptance by the Israelites due to her profession but she found justification before men by her works.
Read the second chapter of Joshua and know how Rahab proved her faith to the two spies as she related the stories of Godís hand on behalf of the Israelites prior to their coming to Jericho.
In spite of being considered a traitor to her people she hid the two spies under stalks of flax confessing to them that the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.
Her words were proven by her works when she let the men down the wall of the city with a rope and sent those that were in pursuit of the spies, the wrong way.
Her profession was proven to be genuine by her practice.
James sums up his argument in verse 26: For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Words without works are worthless; a mere profession of faith is useless without that faith being put into practice.
It is like seeing clouds and expecting rain but no rain comes, it is desiring heat from a fire but only getting smoke in the eyes.
Men do not know the hearts of other men, as God does, and so the only evidence, the only justification of true faith is a revelation of the fruit of that professed faith.
Our Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples this in Matthew 7:15-20, and this is the measure by which we are to know each otherís faith.
It is not a measure based upon words but of works.
God sees our faith but all we can see is works.
Is this measure absolute, no it is not for works too can deceive.
But Jesus knows our limits and he therefore instructs us in Matthew 7:15-20, Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheepís clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
In general this is a wise policy.
Donít accept men by their words, look to their works.
Donít listen to their words, examine what they do.
Watch what people do and give less attention to what they say.
We are now in an era of our nationís history where words, oratory, charisma, image, is what we look for in our leaders, but our Lord warns us that we will only know them by their fruits.
And this is also how we are to know if a man is a man of faith or simply a man with words of faith.
We now move into Chapter three where we find that James continues his caution about the use of words.
This subject, basically about holding your tongue, is not new, for in chapter one we are instructed to be slow to speak.
In chapter two James told us to be wary of words expressing faith but instead be more ready to accept the reality of faith by deeds instead of words.
Now what a subject this is, for all of us have been told in our lifetimes to hold our tongues.
We do not in fact take hold of our tongue by our fingers but it means the same as if reins were put on our tongue with which to retard our speech.
There is an old proverb that tells us much about the endurance of the tongue.
Though your eyelids get heavy and your shoulders, arms, and legs ache with fatigue, your tongue registers no weariness.
In this regard can you ever recall a time when you had a tired tongue?
Can you ever remember saying I must rest my tongue?
There is an old, non politically correct, epitaph of a woman named Arabella Young which tells us of the difficulty of holding ones tongue: I wonder who chose it for her tombstone:
For on this stone engraved for all to see appears this epitaph:
Beneath this stone, a lump of clay,
In Arabellaís case Death was the only thing that could do so.
A reminder that Death does indeed have its benefits.
Now let us read the entire third chapter of James:
James 3:1-18, My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. 2For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. 3Behold, we put bits in the horsesí mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. 4Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. 5Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! 6And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue 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. 7For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: 8But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. 13Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. 14But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. 15This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. 16For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. 17But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
The first message of this chapter is to be not many masters for with this responsibility comes an increased possibility of greater condemnation.
Let me read verse one from the Amplified Bible in order for us to have a better understanding of this admonition.
From the Amplified Bible: James 3:1, Not many [of you] should become teachers (self constituted censors and reprovers of others), my brethren, for you know that we [teachers] will be judged by a higher standard and with greater severity [than other people: thus we assume the greater accountability and the more condemnation].
The first thought regarding this admonition of James that not many of you should become teachers could be about those men who sought to teach Job.
They were indeed self constituted censors and reprovers, were they not?
James is talking here to those who wish to jump into the fray of adversity and immediately start to give advice to others about their condition.
Such were the actions of Jobís friends.
Remember that James has been constant in his advice regarding the use of the tongue and also he has mentioned the adversity that many were going though at this time.
Adversity is such a wonderful opportunity for the tongue to get involved and this is why James brings up this subject.
It is the nature of the tongue to be attracted to adversity and because of adversity many "would be" counselors and "would be" teachers rush in to censor and reprove.
As with Jobís friends many wish to explain in all their wisdom why suffering is taking place.
And many times the arrow misses the target by a mile.
But in the end God rebuked those men for not speaking what was true of Job.
Then there are those who seek to be teachers in order to promote their own interests in gaining power.
False teachers such as those pointed out by Paul in Acts 20:30.
30Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
And what about the would be teachers amongst the scribes and Pharisees.
Jesus on many occasions burst their balloon of hypocrisy as they desired to be the teachers of Israel.
They loved the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and the elaborate greetings in the marketplaces and they loved to be called by the title, Rabbi.
They convinced themselves they were guides to the blind, lights to those who were in darkness, instructors of the foolish, and teachers of babes
Jesus exposed them for what they were.
They were simply using the status of teacher for personal gain.
Status seekers, not interested in others, but simply using others for their own benefit.
So James, here in chapter 3 warns about being too ready to teach knowing that the judgment of teachers is more severe.
Teachers are more accountable for if they teach error they will be held responsible.
Teachers speak many words and have not we been warned by our Lord that we shall give account of every idle word in the day of judgment.
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
Teaching others is to be thought of as a sobering act, an act for which we should all remember, we will be held accountable.