The book of James is in many ways a codex for servanthood in the kingdom of God. It is filled with commands and instruction from one of the first servants, who had firsthand experience of the teachings of Jesus. I recently heard a sermon that stated the book of James is like a handbook given to new servants in a grand old house, by the oldest lead butler.
It is no surprise, therefore, that we often avoid James, because we don’t want to be pressed in upon. We don’t want to be told what to do. We pick and choose the verses we like (1:2, 1:19, 3:13, 4:7-8a, 5:11), and ignore the ones we don’t like (1:6-8, 1:20, 3:14, 4:8b, 5:12). For example, chapter 4, verse 8 starts out great with “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” But we’re not always sure what to do with the second part, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
Yet, one of the most convicting sections of the entire Bible is found in James. Chapter 1, verses 22-25 say, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it — not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it — they will be blessed in what they do.”
Americans tout their freedom everywhere as the highest standard for living. We talk about how we can do whatever we want, say whatever we want, move without restriction, and use our possessions as we desire. But this passage in James says that freedom is found in the perfect law. Elsewhere, in Romans 6:17, the Word says, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.”
We think that freedom is found in being able to do what we want, but the word says that freedom is found in conforming our lives to the Word of God. We have looked in the mirror and walked away only to forget our faces. We were made in the image of God, and it is through His perfect law that we are made to reflect that image more perfectly.
In a recent sermon at Austin New Church, Free Methodist Church – USA Ministerial Development & Credentialing Director Jason Morriss said, “The gospel touches physical human needs wherever it goes. It has never just been about changing ideas. … The gospel changes more than belief and behavior; it’s about changing entire realities, whole systems. Human need is always in the crosshairs of the gospel, when proclaimed properly.”
Morriss called on people to look at the lives of Jesus and Paul as examples of how the gospel reaches tangible needs. It is this gospel that James is encouraging us to jump into, but we ignore his urging and instruction, because we don’t want to be imposed upon. Relationship with Jesus has always been about two things: freedom from our own sin, and freedom to enter into the mission of the kingdom of God. We cannot do one without the other, and it is this reality to which James speaks.
Mark Crawford is the assistant editor of Light + Life Magazine.
- What will it cost you to walk into this reality of serving freely in the kingdom of God?
- What part of being a servant in God’s kingdom feels hard?
- What burdens do you carry with you that affect the way you present the gospel?
- Are there things you are afraid of losing that keep you from freedom in Christ?