Sunday, 16 September 2012
James Chapters 1 & 2
I meant last week to blog about the sermon I heard in church as I found it really inspiring, but didn’t find time. As today’s was equally inspiring, I thought I’d blog about both right now.
My church has started a series of sermons on the epistle of James, based on a Bible study series (I think it’s called Pure Gold) that some of the congregation took part in. So far we have looked at the first two chapters, and I have found what has been said very illuminating. I don’t usually make notes in church but for these two sermons I did, as I really wanted to remember what I consider to be valuable lessons for Christians. Both sermons also felt particularly relevant to me.
Before I explain what I have learnt in church these last two Sundays, it is important to tell you about the writer of this book of the Bible. James is commonly accepted to have been a brother of Jesus and not one of the original twelve disciples. He wrote this letter for Christians from a Jewish background at a time of particularly strong persecution.
The first sermon was on James Chapter 1, and the focus of the sermon was on a number of ‘gold nuggets’ to live by, based on what James says here.
The first of these was: handle life with joy. This summarises verses 2-4 and means that, no matter what is going on in your life, remember your blessings and trust God. It does not mean smile all the time, even when you feel awful, but instead try to focus on the positive side of life and remember your motivations.
The second gold nugget is in verses 5-8: when in doubt, pray. To be a Christian is to have a relationship with God, and to maintain this relationship we need to turn to Him when we are in need, as well as thank Him when we have been blessed. With every struggle, we should pray to God for the things we need, and He will provide for us, although not necessarily in the way we expect. I admit that these verses often scare me because they insist that “when you ask, you must believe and not doubt” because otherwise you are “double-minded and unstable” and “should not expect to receive anything from the Lord”. I struggle with doubt a lot – self-doubt mainly, and so these verses worry me. But what we were told in the sermon was “when in doubt, pray” – which, to me, can be summed up as, “don’t stop praying until your faith has been strengthened”. God has answered and still does answer my prayers. If I am struggling with doubts, I should take them to Him.
The third nugget was: support one another. I’m not quite sure which verses this was specifically summing up, but I think it encompasses verses 9-18. We all go through hardships in life (some more than others), and we are to help one another persevere. The poor should not feel ashamed of their situation, nor the rich pleased with their wealth. God calls us to help one another, and we are to spread His blessings on Earth.
Verses 19-21 can be summed up thus: watch your tongue and guard your heart. I think that says it all, really, and is very good advice. Maybe if people took more time to listen carefully to one another and less time blurting out every thought that occurred to them, there would be a little more tolerance in this world? As for guarding our heart, it makes sense that what we cherish can come to define who we are.
The fifth nugget came from verses 22-25: Do what the Bible says. As Christians, we are called to study the Bible, particularly Jesus’ teachings, and use what we learn to inform our lives. If we want to be more like Christ, we must not forget the example He gave us.
There was one last nugget, which I forget exactly how it was worded in the sermon, but basically summed up verses 26-27 thus: keep a tight rein on our tongues, look after orphans and widows, and take care not to be polluted by the world. Which is very good advice!
James Chapter 2 was talked about today in terms of ‘buried treasure’. The chapter was divided into two sections.
Verses 1-13 discuss favouritism, and basically tell us not to play favourites. The Church should be championing equality! Everyone is welcome as we are all children of God and we all need Jesus. In fact, if anything, we need to turn preferential treatment for the rich and popular on its head: it is the Last, the Least and the Lost who most need God’s love and grace!
Verses 14-26 discuss the Faith vs Works debate. I found what was said about this very interesting and wrote several notes, which I’ll share as they are here: Faith is about knowing who we are and who Jesus is. All of us have sinned and need redeeming. Faith is realising Jesus died for me and on the cross He did everything needed to save me. We cannot do anything to add to that, nor can we clear our debts ourselves. We receive God’s love and grace by accepting this and asking Him in.
However, faith should change us and open a channel for God to work through us. A living faith is expressed in our thoughts, words and actions. Works don’t make us better or more acceptable to God, but they show we love God and follow Jesus.
I hope people have found this blog post as interesting as I found these sermons. What struck me most was how much God wants us to share His love and grace with the Lost. For me, that means thinking about how I can improve my interactions with homeless people in my area to show them they are important to me and help them more effectively.