Thursday, March 19

What should we do? Part I

At Quest, we recently started a series on the book of James. As we began the series, we started with the question of what we should be doing if we are really going to be followers of Jesus. There really are two aspects to this the answer to this question. There is an internal spiritual respons to following Jesus that will affect our character and our relationship with God. There is also an external response that will affect our relationships with others and actions we take in our lives.

In James chapter 1, we can begin to see both types of responses that should take place when we have a relationship with Jesus. James address both the internal spiritual response and the actions we should begin to take among others in the world around us. Here are some of the things that we discussed:

• We see the spiritual actions we should be taking when James says things like in verse 21, when he tells us that we should but away all filthiness and rampant wickedness. In verse 27 he tells us to remain unstained by the world. These are internal changes. Before we come to know Jesus, filthiness and wickedness are often parts of our lives. This is because the culture of the world teaches us to put ourselves first, and if doing things that make ourselves happy bothers or causes problems for other people, well that’s just too bad for them. These attitudes of the world have the tendency to stain us and to affect us, even if we are trying to be a good person. Once we decide to follow Jesus, we should have a change of character and attitude. We should put aside this selfishness and the filthy and wicked attitudes that culture teaches us are normal.

• We see the external actions we should be taking when James says things like in verse 27 when he says that “Religion that is undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit the widows and the orphans in their affliction. . .” Doing things for others, even when it is not in our best interests, is part of what it means to follow Jesus. In the society of the 1st Century, the man of the house was the principle (and usually the only) bread winner. If something happened to him, the family was left without a way to support itself until a son was able to provide for the rest of the family. This means that the “widow and the orphans” where people who were essentially helpless. James is telling us that, as followers of Jesus, we should be taking care of the people who are helpless. It is when we do this that we have a “religion that is undefiled before God.”

• This leads to some tension, however. In our culture there are widows and orphans and others who are helpless. At the same time, there are also people who aren’t helpless, but are lazy and are looking for others to take care of themselves. While James clearly says that we have the responsibility to take care of others, it is also clear from the New Testament that people do have a personal responsibility to try to avoid being a burden on others. This causes some tension because it leads to the question of how we help without enabling the lazy or the people who just want to take advantage of others. This is a particularly difficult line to draw in our culture where we don’t have the same time of easily identifiable classes that are literally helpless. This is a difficult area with no easy answers.

• James reminds us that we should be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Far too often followers of Jesus have the reputation for doing this exactly backwards. We have the reputation of being slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger, especially when it comes to people who don’t know Jesus. A week ago we talked about how the earliest followers of Jesus had the favor of all of the people. When you do these things, it is easy to see how this is the case. When you are quick to listen and slow to speak, you are going to develop relationships with people. Once those relationships develop, people will be willing to listen to what you have to say, even if they initially disagree. Far too often, followers of Jesus simply tell people what they should do or think, rather than building the kind of relationships that will make people truly listen to and care about what we have to say.

• James also tells us that we need to be doers of the word, not just hearers. In fact, he compares people who only hear the message of Jesus but don’t put it into action to a person who looks in the mirror then immediately forgets what they looked like. The words and actions of Jesus and the contents of the Bible should be a mirror. They show us what we look like (or at least what we should look like) when we choose to follow Jesus. They give the picture of how we should live and what our relationships with God and others should look like. However, if we only listen, even if we say we believe it, but don’t actually put it into action, then it is as if we forgot who we are. We have forgotten what a follower of Jesus should look like and what they should do. The fact that we have heard the message of Jesus, and even the fact that we have believed it, become meaningless if we don’t put it into action.

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