This week we are gathering to discuss James 2. One of the key points in this section is James’ statement that “faith is completed by works.” (v.22). This is similar to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, after his reinterpretation of the Ten Commandments, that we “must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.” Matt. 5:48. The root word used for “completed” in James or “perfect” in Matthew is the Greek word telos. Telos means purpose, or goal, or chief end, and formed much of the basis of Greek thought beginning with Aristotle (d.322 B.C.) For Aristotle, things are described with reference to their ultimate purpose (telos). Therefore, in order to describe a “knife”, the substantial part of a knife is to express its purpose (telos) which is to cut things. A knife is good when it is used in accordance with this purpose. (It’s not good (i.e. evil) to use a knife to eat soup.) The size, shape, or material of the knife is merely accidental to its substantial purpose; however, to perfect its purpose a knife needs to have a certain tensile strength and sharpness. In the same way, Aristotle says that an acorn achieves its “telos” when it works to become an oak tree. In order for the acorn to achieve its telos it needs good soil and the right amount of light and water.
The concern of James in this discussion is how does our faith achieve its chief end? What is the sharpness or good soil of our faith that perfects our faith? For James (and for Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount), it is our working in obedience and in accordance with our faith that brings our faith to completion. Abraham believed God and went to Mount Moriah with Isaac. Rahab believed God and befriended the Israelite spies. If we have placed our faith in God, then we necessarily realize that our time, our possessions, and even ourselves no longer belong to us. But it is only when we are faced with the requirement of doing and actually performing that our faith becomes actualized.
Two examples of how faith reaches its perfect end in works are the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the story of Charles Blondin. Jesus teaches that to inherit eternal life, you must “love your neighbor as yourself”, to which the lawyer asks “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the parable and asks “which of the three men proved to be the neighbor of the injured party”, to which the lawyer correctly answered, “the one who showed mercy.” This means that it is only by doing our duty, like the Samaritan, that we discover the identity of our neighbor who fulfills the commandment. It is only in the doing that we recognize the teaching. As James says in v.16, we are not called to recognize our neighbor by telling him to simply go in peace, but we are called to be a neighbor and do what is required.
A more recent example is the story of Charles Blondin. Blondin was a tightrope walker who walked crossed Niagara Falls in 1859 while doing tricks on his rope. At one point he asked if the audience had faith that he could carry a person across the Falls. The crowd loudly expressed its belief, but when asked for a volunteer, none came forward. If we say we believe like the crowd at Niagara Falls or the two Jewish leaders in the parable, but never put those beliefs into practice, then our beliefs are no more than an acorn that remains in the ground or a knife in a drawer. James is telling us that a faith that is not placed into action simply cannot reach its perfect end.
If you want to volunteer or help with the flood relief in Horry County, I have attached an email asking for immediate assistance on a particular project. Or, for more general help, you can go here: https://www.disasterhelp.me/
Dinner is at 6. The menu is Oktoberfest – Sausages (with a vegetarian option), spaetzle, cabbage, apple strudel, and beer. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here. Please bring a friend.
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect (teleios), go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.Matthew 19:21-22