“But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
In the eighth chapter of the book of Nehemiah there is a beautiful account given of the beginnings of a revival among the people of God who have returned to Jerusalem. It comes about as the Word of God is being faithfully proclaimed to God’s people. Nehemiah describes it in the following way as he describes the faithful and prayerful work of the Levites. “They read from the book of the law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.” (Nehemiah 8:8) Whenever I read a verse like that in the Scriptures it reminds me that this in fact the work that I have been called to. To the best of my ability I have been called to proclaim God’s Word by reading from it, and making it clear so that the people can understand what is being read. In truth this means that I am not called to draw attention to myself, but to God. The goal is that the Word of God, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, as it is found in the Scriptures will create a people who will live it out in obedient faith.
This is the goal towards which James seems to be leading believers as he writes his marvellous letter. Real faith creates a complete transformation of our lives into the image of Christ. We become Christ like in our lifestyle when we by faith begin to walk in obedience to the teaching of God’s Word. Kurt Richardson in his New American Commentary on James (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997) puts it this way.
“Religion is the external, observable qualities of the life of faith in Christ. In this very important sense, the “religion” of the Christian and the Christian community is indispensible, but only if it is true to the faith. This is what the Letter of James is all about. Talk of the accountability of believers to the Word of God and to one another in the church is, after all, talk about religious observances practiced with sincerity. The tongue becomes the test case for true religion.”
In the final three verses of the first chapter James gives us a summary of the message on what for many people seems to be a written sermon, in which he seeks to make it clear to us, so that we can all understand, just what it means for us to be a sincere follower of the way of the Lord Jesus Christ. The genuineness of this way in our lives is revealed when we, by faith, begin to control our tongues like real believers, and live with the charity and the purity of those who are really following Jesus. For James to be a follower of Jesus involves far more than just our saying so. It redeems every part of our lives. This must become our ambition and our hope as well because, as James tells us so forcefully, our future blessedness is tied to our present faith filled obedience to God’s Word.