We just completed our sermon series on a topic called ‘Abiding Faith’, and what the series primarily taught us is to hold on to our Faith in times of sufferings and troubles.
The church of Thessalonica taught us how to remain steadfast in our Faith by continually searching our hearts against sinful patterns and believe in the saving grace of our saviour Jesus & depend on the Holy Spirit.
The next series we are preaching is called “Faith in Action”, I believe this will be a continuation of what we just taught. We will be looking at one of the most powerful letters written by James, the brother of Jesus, to the Christian Jews who left their hometown because of the persecution and are now scattered in unknown territories, among strange people.
The verse is James 1:1 is what we will look at today, where James writes “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in dispersion”
The word ‘dispersion’ means to be in exile, the state of being barred from one’s native country.
What I want to do as we begin with James is to give you a context into this people group and help us see similarities with our context in Mumbai, India, and also answer an important question, which is “Why should our Faith be seen in action?”.
As we read through this letter and look at the issues, James is addressing we learn a couple of things about this group.
The first thing we get to know from James 1:2-4 about these people is that they were going through all kinds of trials in this new land.
Maybe the new culture is not suiting them the way they lived back in their home town. Perhaps the people in this new land is not welcoming enough and therefore facing a lot of resistance and rejection affecting their family life, work-life and social life. Maybe the weather isn’t suitable for their skin and bodies and hence having physical discomforts, or perhaps they are always living under threat and danger to their lives.
When we read James 1:9-11; 2:1-7 & 5:1-6 we see a second problem facing them is wealth & poverty, because of the resistance, looks like some of them are not able to find good jobs, maybe they are restricted from pursuing any business ventures, the rich seem to be controlling the government and the economy, and therefore these brothers and sisters are lacking all the good things in life.
On the other hand some who were already rich among them have other heart issues, where instead of accepting, loving and caring for their fellows brothers & sisters they are now looking down on them because of their poverty-stricken life. In those days, people who were poor where considered as less favoured by God, therefore they were treated indignantly.
Thirdly, because of the above two reasons, they also seem to be struggling with their faith.
In 1:22-23 James writes “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.”
They are failing to live a godly life, not able to walk in obedience, not able to show love and care to the community in the way should show, in doing so James says they were deceiving themselves.
Some of them even seem to have lost their faith, trusting and depending on God for their everyday need looks like a difficult thing to achieve.
Fourthly, their prayer life seems to have gone for a toss, where they needed wisdom the most they were failing to go to God in prayer and ask for help.
James 1:5-8 he writes “5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Fifthly, we also see bitterness in their hearts against others. Even among their own brethren where now they have no control over their tongue and instead of using their speech to uplift one another and glorify God, they are using their words to destroy each other’s confidence and faith in Christ.
1:19 he writes “19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”
Sixthly, after knowing & receiving the Lord and His saving grace, they are now slipping into worldliness and seeking the pleasure of the world.
4:4 “You adulterous people![c] Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Instead of seeking the face of Christ and drinking from the living water that only Christ offers, instead of resting in Christ they are now depending on their own self-efforts to make their lives better by indulging in worldly friendships.
And finally, we see how pride has taken over their hearts and humility crushed under the pressure of the circumstances, failures and rejection.
3:3-15 “13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”
Brothers & sisters, could we take a moment here and think of our circumstances, failures, sufferings, abundance, rejections and loses, and evaluate it against our responses to them?
How do we respond when we face trials of all kinds, when our unbelieving family, friends & community constantly nag us, taunt us, persecute us, reject us, show partiality and stop us from growing in life?
How do we respond to circumstances when we lose our jobs, get salary cuts, when promotion are taken away, when there is not enough money to live in a good house, to buy new clothes, to buy good food?
And on the other hand, when God blesses us with riches what does that do to our heart, do we start looking at ourselves as highly favoured children of God and look down on others?
How do we respond to circumstances when we don’t feel good about our faith, the happy feelings we experienced during the time of our conversion seems diminished and gone forever, when our sinful patterns and habits are showing up again, and this time in a big way, where we are constantly filled with guilt and condemnation all the time stopping us from progressing in life?
How do we respond when our prayer life seems powerless, monotonous & ineffective? Do we go to God in prayer, ask for wisdom when we need it the most?
How do we respond when our heart is continuously bitter towards others because of what they do and said to you?
How do we respond when the world, the worldly pleasures, the worldly ways of doing things looks more promising and desirable?
Brothers & Sisters, let me tell you this, it is in these moments that our faith is tested. The testing of our faith is Gods way of purifying and sanctifying our lives, where he also separates the weeds from the wheat, the unfaithful from the faithful, the children of the kingdom from the children of the world.
But the good news, as written in 1 Peter 5:10 “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”
And my prayer for all you today, as you go through difficult times, listening to my words, is may God find each one of you faithful, may God be merciful to you and grant you His grace in abundant measure so that you all stand out victorious with you names written in the book of Life.
To those of my friends listening to these words for the first time, let me tell you that God, the creator of the universe who made us in his image and likeness, through the life, death and resurrection of His son Jesus has offered us an amazing privilege to turn back from our sinful ways and receive an eternal crown that will save us from our wretched heart.
If you feel your heart is responding and desiring to be closer to God, our loving, gracious & merciful Father, to receive this new and abundant life I’m talking about, a life that even through the darkest moments of our life on this earth will shine brightly and fill our hearts with hope. All you have to do is repent of your sinful lives you have lived thus far, openly confess it to Jesus in prayer and put your trust in Him & it will be sealed in heaven forever. And if you wish to talk to someone we are always available for you, to counsel you, comfort you and lead you to this salvation.
Now, coming to our question “Why should our faith be seen in action too?”
Firstly, remember, we don’t produce the action ourselves, it is our faith that produces the action. In James 2:2 James writes “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected”
True Faith automatically produces action, that’s an inbuilt nature of faith. And when the action is unseen it is not because Faith is unable to produce the action but it is the hardness of our heart to believe the truth, to believe that God is able – it is our unbelief that suppresses the effects of faith from producing the action.
Faith is not just a feeling, but it is also this power that pushes us to act in obedience in a way that is seen and experienced by others in our life. If someone says yes, I am a Christian but can’t forgive and love my brother, then I would question that faith, because genuine faith in the saving grace of Christ will open your heart to love and forgive your brothers and sisters just as Christ loved and forgave us.
And so James through this letter is telling us that true faith should be seen in action in three major areas.
It has to be seen in our deeds
It has to be seen in our speech &
It has to be seen in our conduct
And that is what we will explore in our new series called “Faith in Action”.
But, here’s what I want you to take home today.
Let’s go back and evaluate our hearts in the light of the Gospel, where do we stand at this moment as we learned about the context of these Christian Jews? How hard or easy is your life and circumstances in comparison to these Christians? What is the greatest challenge you are facing in your life at this current moment and what has been your response so far? Do you believe that God is speaking to you today, what is He saying, what sinful responses of your heart is he exposing to you? How do you think your responses and actions to your circumstances is affecting the people around you? & Are your deeds, speech & conduct glorifying God and displaying his work in your life?
Brothers & sisters, no matter how good or bad you are at this point in life. If you are a child of God, you are already forgiven and already given an abundant measure of grace to lift yourself from your miserable state. All you have to do is repent, confess and put your faith back in God and He will deliver you.
Will you do that today?