Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday Scripture - James 1:22-27

James 1:22-27 
1:22-25 – Here James keenly diagnoses the blithe self-deception that so many of us fall easily into. We listen to the word, and then fail to put it into practice in our own lives. But this, of course, is a failure to really understand the meaning and power of the word of God: its intent is to be put into practice; so if we fail in that, regardless of how high our intellectual knowledge regarding the word might be, then we have failed in all of it. The image James chooses to illustrate this principle made a good deal of sense in the ancient world—mirrors were uncommon objects (and those that were available were often not of very high quality), so most people went through life with only the vaguest notion of what they looked like to others. In that world, it was entirely possible to see oneself in a mirror, be struck with the image, but then go on and forget about it. The word of God is like a mirror for our souls: it shows us what we really are—a view that we do not get to see from anywhere else. The image it shows of us will probably be convicting, and the appropriate response is to do something about the glaring weaknesses and faults that have shown up in that image of our hearts. Instead, most of us too often simply go on our way and forget what we have seen. We choose not to deal with it. What we ought to do, though, is to look intently into this perfect law, the law that gives freedom. How can a law give freedom? Don’t laws serve to restrict freedom? No, not really. N. T. Wright’s commentary on James would have us consider the simple law of which side of the road we ought to drive on. If we didn’t have that law, people would just drive however and wherever they wanted, and driving would be an immensely dangerous thing to undertake. But with that law in place, new freedoms are opened up to us: safe transit to anywhere we might want to go. In the same way, the laws of Scripture, which prohibit sin, keep us safe and open up for us a life of freedom and adventure such as we would not have otherwise known. So what must we do? Look intently into the word of God, and then do what it says.

1:26-27 – Here James returns to the damaging power of human words: those who cannot control their tongues belie their own religious pretensions. A man who passes himself off as a Christian and yet speaks in anger, curses, and foul speech (or even, if not those things, even the simplest gossip or backbiting) is only fooling himself—he’s not fooling anyone else, and he’s certainly not fooling God. Such religion is worthless. What does real religion look like, then, if it doesn’t look like a once-a-week religious show? It looks like people who care for those who need help—widows and orphans—people who are so full of the love of God that they can do naught else but extend that love to others. And it also looks like keeping away from the sins of the world, letting the guardrails of God’s laws keep us from driving off into the cliffs of sinful living. True religion is to love others and live holy lives as unto God. The principle is simple. All that remains is to put it into practice.