Contemplations #16 (James: part 4 of 7)

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead. Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh”(James 2:14–3:12).

questions to contemplate:

(1) thoughts: is “faith” ultimately about what you believe? is it possible to believe/think the “right” things but to not have faith? alternatively, is it possible for one to be a person of faith when one thinks/feels differently than what is considered normal/conventional? considering that there is no one who has the exact same beliefs/opinions/views about everything re: life/God/scripture — even within one local faith community — what is it in our thinking that unites people of faith (in all past, current + future gatherings/assemblies/denominations)? in other words, what exactly is it in one’s convictions that makes one a believer?

(2) actions: what specifically do you do in your life that is an expression of your faith? why is it important/essential that beliefs + actions always exist together? why might certain ideas that we have about life/God/scripture not be implemented/lived out? conversely, have there been times in your life when you have acted without corresponding conviction/belief? are works useless/pointless without a faith to match them or is there still value in doing good?

(3) words: though children are often taught the well-intentioned (but ineffective/unhelpful) “sticks + stones” rhyme as a way to cope with name-calling, why is it that words in actuality have the ability to inflict much harm/hurt? how are words, actions + thoughts interrelated? in other words, what is more hurtful (or healing): saying something that one does(n’t) really believe? saying something with(out) corresponding action? how often do you truly think before you speak + what things are better left unsaid?

quotes to consider:

“With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, [Jesus] did not give them something to think about together when he was gone. Instead, he gave them concrete things to do — specific ways of being together in their bodies — that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself…‘Do this,’ he said — not believe this but do this — ‘in remembrance of me’”(Barbara Brown Taylor).