James prompts us to examine our works and see how they demonstrate our faith. What have you done this week to demonstrate your faith?
This Week’s Passage: James 2:1-10 (11-13) 14-17
I. Establish the text
C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday, September 9th, in Ordinary Time
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
14a – If our faith does not affect how we live our lives Monday – Saturday, is it worth anything?
14b – c.f. those who call on the Lord, but are not saved, for they only have words.
15 & 16 – What if God responded to our prayers with empty platitudes?
18 – Does American society encourage faith apart from works? And works that show no faith. What works would set us apart as faithful Christians?
19 – Believing in God is not sufficient?
21 – Genesis 22 describes the sacrifice of Isaac as a testing of Abraham. This is the last act of Abraham. After this Sara dies then Abraham must entrust the selection of a wife for Isaac to a servant.
22 – Faith was active with Abraham’s works, but the illustration does not show how faith apart from works was barren.
25 – Rahab’s works (Joshua 2) appear to arise apart from faith. Rahab appears to be motivated by fear, and her works only to avoid the fate of her country rather than conversion. This passage enforces concept that one may be justified by works apart from faith; that one might give alms or pay penance and thus earn one’s way into heaven.
26 – Faith is corporeal. Works are spiritual.
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- Preceded by exhortation to speak and act with mercy, since all are transgressors of the law.
- Followed by exhortation to control one’s tongue, as it guides one’s whole being.
II. Literary Study.
B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
V. 14 c.f. Luke 6:46 — ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you?
III. Question the text.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Center of gravity: Faith exudes works that demonstrate faith.
- Emotional Center: Faith that does not produce works is faithless.
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- This passage is central to the faith/works controversy of the Reformation. Excess emphasis on and abuse of works, as indicative of saving faith, resulted in a theology of salvation by faith alone.
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- This passage encourages self-justification. Encourages the faithful to ask: “What have I done to show my faith?”
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
R.A. Martin (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: James. 1982.) notes James is not contrasting faith and works, but “actually contrasting two types of faith, only one of which is really faith at all.” He perfects the translation of v. 26 by noting the parallel with body and spirit and /pneumatos/ and works. While nearly all translations opt for spirit, Martin shows how “breath” optimally conveys James’ parallel to show that just as breath demonstrates a living body, so works demonstrate a living faith.
Eugene March (“Faith and Action,” The Presbyterian Outlook, May 20, 1996.) notes that this passage is often contrasted with the Apostle Paul who might have answered James’ rhetorical question: “Can faith save you?”
Michelle Bartel (The Present Word: Fall 2003, Faith Faces the World. PC(USA), 2003.) “The point in this letter is not that works are more important than faith, but that faith and works can never be separated. … to say we have faith without changing our lives … is not really faith.”
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
Works are the manifestation of our faith.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
Faith alone may be sufficient for salvation, but trust in the one true God inevitably changes how we act, resulting in works.