Father James Early: Welcome back to our study of St. James’ epistle. We begin now at James 1:19. I am going to first look at verses 19-21, and then 22-27, as a unit. Verse 27 ends the chapter.
This is the second major division of St. James’ epistle. The first division was about trials and temptations, and we have now finished that section. The second section, which goes from 1:19, all the way through 2:26, is about being doers of the word. In other words, the importance of action, and not just saying we believe, but actually living out our faith in our lives.
Let us start in verses 19-21:
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. For the wrath of many does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore, lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls.
Just for fun, in my blog, I put the video of Simon and Garfunkel performing the song, “The Sounds of Silence,”—an old video from 1965, black and white—and I challenged the blog readers to find the connection between the song and this part of the scripture. You have to listen to the words of the song, but nobody got it, not a single one. It was really simple, at least I intended it to be simple. Our own reader, Reader John, saw it on Facebook. There is a line in the song—“the vision that was planted in my brain”— the whole song is about a dream they had about people not able to communicate, and everything is silent. In the song it says, “the vision that was planted in my brain.” And it says, in verse 21, “Lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word.” So Reader John said, “Ah, that is the connection, the implanted Word, the implanted vision.” But that was even deeper and more intellectual than I actually intended (laughter). You know, the sound of silence is what God wants to come out of our mouths most of the time, at least that is what I am trying to get at here. It was too simple, I guess.
As I mentioned before, in verses 2-18, and in the first part of 19, St. James’ discussion centered somewhat loosely on the topic of trials and temptations and how we are to deal with them. In the middle of verse 19, you see the Greek word, oste which means, so, then, or therefore. Now he is turning to a new topic, the nature of true Christianity. That discussion lasts until Chapter 2, verse 26. True Christianity, St. James tells us, is backed up by works. The theme of this passage can be seen in four words that St. James uses repeatedly, so if you want to get an idea of what he is talking about here, what is the main idea? There are four words: Logos, which means word; nomos, which means law; erga, which means works; pistiwhich means faith.
He talks about the Word of Christ, and he talks about the law, but I am going to argue later, it is not the Law of Moses, it is the Law of Christ. I have kind of given away my thunder now. Now you can leave if you want, you have the idea (laughter).
Works and faith— the relationship between works and faith—a very, very, important passage. We are not going to get to that in earnest until Chapter 2. He lays out very clearly for us the relationship between faith, works, and law, particularly the law of Moses, and also the law of Christ, but he begins with some preliminary words about speaking, listening, and anger.
I have to admit, verse 19 is one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible. I love this verse. It is a verse that I am still trying to make a way of life, with limited success. Some people might say, yeah, well, you would like this verse—because I am naturally a man of few words. I do not really talk a whole lot. Now, that was not true in elementary school—and I know you are all thinking, yeah, right—because here, I talk for a solid 45 minutes, and I do the liturgy, and all that, but I really do not like to talk that much. I used to teach school, too, so I would talk all day, but to be honest with you, I really do not like to talk that much. I am a man of few words, so it is easy for me to like this one. We all tend to like the verses that do not preach at us. For instance, if you are a person who is not particularly attached to worldly goods, you do not care about money that much, then you tend to love the passages that preach about not being attached to this world, giving your reaches away. You find yourself saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s it!” But when we get to something that is actually hard for us, we tend not to like those as much. So, I like this verse, but it is easy for me to like it.
He stresses the importance of listening and controlling our speech. When St. James does that, he is echoing a major theme of the Old Testament: Wisdom literature, the book of Proverbs, in particular. Audrey will tell you this—I have one Bible that I have had for 15 years or so, and in the Proverbs I have highlighted all the verses that I really like, and some of them I have highlighted and underlined. We were reading through them as a family one time, and Audrey said, “So what does it mean? Some of them are starred, some of them are highlighted, some of them are underlined. So Dad, if a verse is highlighted, starred, and underlined, you must really like that one, right?” And I did. There are a lot of verses about not talking so much.
Here is one example: In Proverbs 17:27 we read: “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” There is another one that I like a lot, too, and I do not remember the reference to it, I do not have it written down, but it says, “In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking.” Think about that one. If we just keep talking, and talking, and talking, we are going to get ourselves into trouble sooner or later.
Sirach is one of my favorite books. It is not in the Protestant Old Testament, but it is in the Orthodox Study Bible or any Septuagint Old Testament. Sirach 5:11 tells us: “Be quick to hear, be deliberate in answering.” So clearly, a person who can control his tongue and his temper, is a person who is not far from the Kingdom of Heaven.
Comment: Here is another one: “A changeable man will fall into evils with his tongue.”
Fr. James: Right. The tongue gets us into trouble. In fact, St. James is going to devote an entire passage to that in Chapter 3, and we will get to that later. There is another quote I have heard, too, and this is not in the Bible. Maybe one of you can tell me who said this. This was said by someone in about the 19th century, or maybe early 20th: “It is better to keep quiet and have people think you are a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
Comment: Mark Twain.
Fr. Early: Thank you. I knew in this intellectual group, one person would get that (laughter). Father Farley, commenting on the passage, says, “One must let the other person finish his say, weigh a response carefully before responding, and not instantly turn to wrath, nurturing anger in one’s heart.” What is the nature of the wrath of which St. James speaks? In Greek wrath is orgi. What is wrath? Father Farley says, it is not so much sudden outbursts, but smoldering resentment, enduring antagonism. That is a different take on wrath. When we think about wrath, we tend to think of just going ballistic—blowing up. But he is saying, in this context, at least, it is more of a smoldering resentment. You do not let it blow out, you do not blow your stack, you get angry at someone and you hold it in, it smolders, you nurse it. You are stoking the fire, just not visibly, necessarily. That is another type of wrath.
Neither the lingering resentment that we were just talking about, nor sudden outbursts of anger, work the righteousness of God, as St. James tells us in verse 19. In other words, this kind of anger or wrath does not lead to righteous activity that pleases God. Wrath, itself, unless it is directed at Satan, or our own sin, is not only, itself, sinful, but it almost always leads us into more sinful behavior.
I do not want to go too far down the road of talking about anger, because that is not all that he wants to talk about in this passage, but the Fathers teach us, most of them anyway— there is not a complete unanimity, but the general consensus, a majority opinion, if you will— that wrath, or anger, is a gift given to us by God to use against sin in our own lives, and to use against unrighteousness. It can even be things that we are not necessarily doing. For instance, when you see some horrible evil, you should be angry about it. If you are not, there is something wrong with you. But the problem is, we often use it in the wrong way. Most of the time we use it against other people when they upset us or when they offend us. We use anger inappropriately, but the purpose of anger is to cut off the sin within our lives. We should be repulsed when we feel sinful desires or we do sinful acts. That helps us to then turn away from them. That kind of wrath does produce the righteousness of God.
Consider the Philokalia, the very first section, by St. Isaiah the Solitary. I think that is my favorite part, the very first book. It is on watchfulness. I cannot remember the full title, but it has to do with watchfulness. He talks about there being an anger that is according to the righteousness of God, and he talks about how it is supposed to be used against our own sin.
In verse 21, St. James transitions into the heart of his second major topic, which is, discussing Christian behavior, in general. Our most fundamental task as Christians is two-fold. He says, “First of all, lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness.” We need to put away sinfulness. It is an active process that we have to be involved with. St. Paul refers to it in a different way. He calls it, putting off the old man. The old man is the person we were before, and that old man, before we became a believer in Christ, has a way of popping back up a lot. It wants to come back, it does not want to go away. Those sinful habits that we had before tend to want to come back to the surface. We need to keep continually laying them aside. It is an ongoing process, it is not a one-time deal. It is not like we say, “Okay, Jesus, I am laying aside my sin, henceforth, and forever and ever, amen, and I do not ever have to deal with it again.” Anyone who has ever tried to live a Christian life knows that that is the truth.
He also says, not only do we lay aside the filthiness and the wickedness, but he says, “Receive, with meekness, the implanted Word.” The implanted Word—now what is this Word? This Word is not so much the written word, though that is a part of it.
Going back to the idea of laying aside all wickedness and filthiness, St. James tells his readers, they must decisively reject whatever evil remains from their old life. The verb rendered, put off, is the aorist tense, indicating a single, energetic decision. The Greek verb does mean a one-time act, but it is still a continual thing. This is not the only passage that teaches on that. We have to do it continually, and we call it repentance in the Orthodox Church. It is not a half-hearted rejection of evil, but it is a vigorous commitment to holiness. We have to make a commitment to holiness, but we make that commitment on a day-by-day basis. It is not easy, by any stretch the imagination, but it is made easier if we receive the implanted Word.
What is the Word that St. James speaks of? Is it the Bible? Without a doubt, reading, studying, memorizing and applying the Bible, is critical to our spiritual wellbeing. St. John Chrysostom says ignorance of the Scriptures is the source of nearly every evil in our lives.
We need to know the Scriptures, but St. James is not speaking, here, of the Bible. How can we know that he is not speaking of the Bible? You might be able to argue the Word of Truth is the Bible, strictly from the text, itself, but think about this: Think about when St. James’ Epistle was written—somewhere in the late 40s. Was there a Bible then? No. Were there any writings, other than the Old Testament? No, this is it. This is the first writing, historically, chronologically speaking, that actually ended up in the New Testament. If he meant the written word, he meant this epistle, right here. Ultimately speaking, the Word of God is Christ, Himself. Remember, John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.”
Comment 1: In addition to that, Father, at least in my Bible, in verse 18, “His” is capitalized.
Comment 2: It says, “By His own will He brought us forth, the Word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). I see that as baptism into Christ.
Fr. Early: Right, there is the sense in which we were baptized with the Holy Spirit, definitely, but what I am driving at is, I think St. James is primarily teaching about the Word, as in the spoken Word, the teachings. Because, remember, first of all, this was a very oral culture. We did not have the scriptures written down yet, and it was a very oral culture where most teaching was passed down from master to student, from father to son, mother to daughter, and so on. Everything was oral. People memorized things, people learned things by heart, like we hardly ever do. We do not really have to in our culture, because if I wanted to know who said that quote about opening your mouth, all I had to do was get on Google and in probably five seconds, I could have it. Obviously, that was not the case back then, so they had to memorize quote and speaker, whoever gave the quote. They memorized so much of the Old Testament that it would put us to shame.
Here is what Father Farley says:
The word is the word of teaching given by their teachers and elders who expound the Scriptures and transmit the counsels of Christ, such as those in His Sermon on the Mount. They are to listen to their teachers in meekness, tremblingly taking the teaching into their inner hearts, humbly accepting correction, and eagerly looking for opportunities to hear such exhortations.
Did you catch that part? Eagerly looking for opportunities to hear exhortation, which all of you have done today, thank you. Thank you for being here. I think we should seek out opportunities to hear people teaching on the Word, but make sure they are reliable. I do not mean to just go turn on the radio, you all know this. Do not turn on the radio and just listen to any preacher on there, but we need to seek out good, solid, Orthodox teaching on the faith, and on the Bible, continually nourishing ourselves and updating our knowledge so that we can, not just know it mentally, but apply it to our lives.
I do not know about all of you, but I forget a lot. Someone will ask me a question— I am a priest, so I am supposed to know everything, right? I get tons of people emailing me totally out of the blue— what about this, Father? What about that? And I am thinking, yeah, I need to ask someone else— let me get back to you on that, let me do a little research, because I cannot remember everything. Our faith is deep. It is very deep, and it is true for all of us, but I need to continually be learning. We all need to continually be learning. We can do that through written sources, but also through oral sources, as well.
“If we do this, the Word will thus be implanted within them.” According to Father Farley, the Word will be implanted within us and will bear the fruit of a transformed life. It is not to be received as Christian entertainment, but as that which is able to save our souls, as the instrument of God for our final salvation. No wonder we should welcome it and look for opportunities to receive it.
What about you, dear class-member, or dear listener? Do you make time to read, not only the scriptures, but also quality Orthodox teaching on the scriptures and the Fathers? Do you pay attention to the sermon and the Divine Liturgy? Do you attend the Bible faith study classes that your parish offers? Of course I am directing this to the listeners, not all of you, because you are here right now. Obviously, you are taking advantage of it. How about all the teaching that is out there on tapes, or CDs, or podcasts, even? These teachings are so profitable, and they should be a regular part of an Orthodox Christian in this crazy, 20th century world. Never forget that the written, and the spoken, Word of God, is able to save your soul. I just do not have as much time to read as I would like. I could probably budget my time and get a little bit more time, but I just find, after coming home from work, spending time with family, putting kids down, do a little cleaning, it is almost bedtime by that point, and so I do not get a lot of reading done. I read just maybe an average of 15-20 minutes a night, if that. But, thanks be to God for podcasts. I can listen to podcasts like The Path, on Ancient Faith Radio that has the gospel and the epistle lesson for every single day, except the weekends. You listen to the epistle, then you listen to one of the Fathers commenting on it, then you listen to the gospel, things like that, those are really helpful. So, if you can take advantage of something like that, it will really help you. I know it helps me. You can put them on CD, listen to them in the car, you can listen just about anywhere.
Let us sum up this section. St James says, be slow to speak, slow to judge, but quick to listen, and to control your temper, and take advantage of the implanted Word, take advantage of opportunities to hear the Word.
Any questions or comments?
Comment: It occurred to me, as you were talking about this—who is this coming from, and why? It seems to me that St. James is saying: Look at who it is coming from. Whose will is it that we are supposed to be hearing and doing? And why? Something about being a first fruit. First fruit of what? All of that seems to coalesce for me, so that we can be a first fruit of little Christs, little Words. If we are going to be speakers of the Word, and hearers of the Word, then we have to be doers of the Word. The whole thing kind of wraps around that.
Father Early: We have to live up to what God has already done in our lives. Last time we talked about how one day God is going to transform the entire creation, and we are kind of a preview of that. As you were just saying, we are first fruits. God has transformed us through the Holy Spirit, through the washing of baptism and the Holy Spirit within us, and we need to live up to that. We need to not drop the ball, so to speak.
Comment: And I love the juxtaposition that you get out of the 18th psalm, I think, in which he says, you know, it is not just we people who speak the Word, the Glory of God— the rocks speak to the rocks, the light speaks to light, the darkness speaks to darkness—and what does it speak about? The Glory of God.
Father Early: That is a really good point.
Let us go on to verse 22, a very famous passage, and we are going to go all the way to the end of the chapter, verse 27. He says:
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 observing his natural face in a mirror, for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: To visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
Martin Luther referred to the Epistle of James as “an epistle of straw.” He said it did not preach the gospel of Christ. Can you imagine that? It did not preach the gospel? This is the gospel. My understanding is, if I remember my history correctly, he actually thought about leaving it out. In the first German Bible he did not put it in. So, in the beginning of Protestantism—“I do not like this, I will just throw it out.” Our thinking in Orthodoxy is, if I do not agree with it, I need to change me, not change the Bible.
The phrase, “Be doers of the Word” can apply to the written word, but here, it is primarily the oral teaching. This is confirmed by St. James’ choice of the word “hearers.” Notice that he does not say, “Be doers of the word, and not readers only.” Most of his recipients probably could not even read, though Jewish people were pretty well educated, they made it a point to at least learn how to read, but still, he does not say readers. He says hearers. So do not just listen to people preach the Word, or teach the Word, but actually put it into practice. Some Jews in St. James’ day, and some Christians today, I would add, think that just listening to people expound on the scriptures is adequate for one’s spiritual life. But St. James makes it clear that listening to the Word is not enough, we have to put it into practice. If we think that all that we have to do is hear or read, without practicing biblical commands, we are just deceiving ourselves.
St. James illustrates the folly of listening, but not doing, the Word, with a humorous comparison. He talks about a man— notice how he does not say a woman— a woman would never forget what she looks like after looking in a mirror (laughter). I mean that as a compliment. Guys are just sometimes in a hurry, and often not really paying attention. We are kind of superficial sometimes.
I will give you an example. I have not worn a watch in years. The last time I had a watch, and it bit the dust, I said, “All right, I am not going to waste money on another one.” I was tired of buying new watches. I guess I should have gotten a Rolex, they never break, right? I had a Timex, and it took a licking, and it did not keep on ticking, despite the old commercials. So I decided to give up on watches. It was about that time that I finally broke down and got a cell phone, so I just started using my cell phone to check the time, like a lot of people do. I cannot tell you how many times— this is so silly, but I would think— I wonder what time it is? And I would open it up, close it right back, and then a minute later I would be thinking— what time is it again? I did not even pay attention to it! Do you do that, too? Thank you. It is just guys, see what I mean? We are careless.
In a similar fashion, a man would look into a mirror, turn away, and forget what he just saw, not even remember. Here is what Father Farley says about this. I like what he says: “With typical Jewish humor, James paints a picture of a man who checks himself in a mirror and then rushes off, doing nothing about what he has just seen. Surely one looks in the mirror for the purpose of washing off whatever dirt is there.”
So the idea is of a man who maybe is a little bit dirty. Sometimes you can just feel there is something wrong, there is some dirt, or you have something on you—a little ketchup on the side after you had a hot dog, perhaps—so you look in the mirror, and the point of looking in the mirror is to see where it is so you can wipe it off, right? But this man, he looks in, and he does nothing about it. It is like it did not even happen, he totally wasted the time. And in the same way, as with a man who only hears the Word in order to improve his life, if we hear the Word hoping to wash off sin, or deal with sin in our lives, to improve ourselves—if we hear it, but do not actually do anything about it, it is equally silly. It is just like me looking at my cell phone and then two seconds later forgetting what time it was. It is like a man who needs to wash his face, looks in the mirror, walks away, and forgets to do anything about it, forgets to wash his face.
But unfortunately, how often do we hear a teaching, particularly one that we need to apply in our lives, and then we either forget about it—we get home, we get busy, and we forget—or we just refuse. “Oh, that is just too hard, I cannot handle that. It requires too much change in my life.” This is folly.
St. James contrasts the image of a person looking quickly into a mirror, to another image of a wiser person, who looks or peers intently into the perfect law of liberty. He says that he looks into it, or peers into it. The Greek word carries the idea of someone stooping down to get a closer look, long and hard, at something. Would you like to know where else that word is used? It is used in John 20:11, where Mary Magdalene, after Jesus has risen from the dead and Mary goes to the tomb, she stoops down, and she peers into, really looks intently, into the tomb, to see where the body is, because she has come to anoint the body with spices and to prepare it more, because they did not have time to completely prepare the body beforehand, because the Sabbath came. So Mary stoops down and peers carefully in. We need to do the same thing into the law, the law of liberty.
But what is the law? Is he talking about the Mosaic law, or the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament? You might think so, because James’ readers were Jewish Christians. When they heard the word, law, they would tend to think about the law of Moses, but the context and the flow of the text demand that the perfect law of liberty is the same thing as the Word. It is the teaching of Christ, and the apostles, and the leaders of the Church. So St. James is saying that we need to gaze intently into the law, not only to listen to it or to read it, but to study it, and attempt to understand it to the best of our ability, and then also to ask ourselves— how can I apply that to my life?
Any thoughts on that, or questions?
Comment: Part of the problem is, especially for Protestants, that they read one line, and they forget the second part that comes after, what you should do after. For example, in verse 21 it says, “Receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). So they get the idea that all they have to do is just receive it, and that is it. It has a magical effect upon your soul and you are saved.
Father Early: Yes—done deal, forevermore.
Comment: It is a passive approach to living the life that Christ wants us to live, which is just the opposite of that. We are to be active.
Father Early: That is what attracted me to Orthodoxy, because I felt like the Orthodox approach to Scripture was the most consistent of all the Christian traditions. There is not this tendency to cherry-pick, to pick this verse, and that verse, and that verse, and to build a grid out of five, six, or ten verses that you really like, and to make the rest of the Scripture fit through that. That was what, I think, the reformers did, and each one of them had a slightly different grid. That is why none of them could agree on anything, because what about the other scriptures that do not fit into your system?
Comment: What did we decide Word is?
Father Early: The Word is the teaching of Christ and his apostles, and then the Church, by extension.
Comment: I am wondering if that is what that means at all, because, first of all— the term implanted. It does not say the Word is heard, or the Word is understood— it is saying it is implanted. Well, if something is implanted in us, it is installed somehow. We could have a pacemaker put on our heart, and it could be implanted under our skin. I was reading the other day about some drug that is implanted. It is not something that we have to take, it is not something that we have to remember, it is just in there. He says that the Word is implanted. I have been reading about things that some of the saints say, and they talk about how in baptism, Christ is taken in you, and then Christ rose. I was talking to someone one time about how I would read something and it would not make sense to me, but I would go ahead and read it. And then maybe a few months later, I would go back and read the same book again, and it would make sense to me. And I was telling this person, I guess that it was because of the experiences I have had that made what I read before relevant, so now I understood it. And this person said, “No, that thought was planted in you, and that thought has grown. That is not anything that you came into contact with.”
Father Early: But where did the thought come from?
Comment: It came from Christ. It is the Spirit.
Father Early: How did you hear it, though?
Comment: It was implanted in baptism, it says here. What I am wondering is, that if there could be something like this implanted in us at baptism, we have this conflict in us now. Because now that the Lord is within us, now we have a Battle to fight. Before we did not, but now we do, because we know right, we know wrong. Right is in us, truth is in us, and so now we have to battle it out, whereas before we did not. So maybe the Word is actually Christ that is in us, that helps us fight these battles, or tells us that we have a Battle to fight.
Father Early: I think that is part of it, too. I do not think we have to pick and choose. He does say, “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” So there is a hearing component to that.
Comment: But I am wondering if that is that just a figure of speech.
Father Early: Well, implanted could be, too, because if you think about the parable of the soils that Jesus told, he said, “The seed is the Word.” And it was scattered around— the scattering is the preaching. When we hear the Word, it can be planted within us, or we can reject it, either one.
But the point is, as I said earlier, ultimately, the Word, in its fullest meaning, is Christ Himself. So there is a sense in which, yes, the Word, in other words, Christ, is implanted in us through the Holy Spirit. We have Christ within us. St. Paul spoke about “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” So what you are saying is not wrong. I do not think it contradicts what I am saying, I think that it goes together with it. The Word is multi-faceted. It has to do with hearing, it has to do with receiving, being implanted, it has to do with reading, certainly.
Comment: When we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, we do receive the Word internally.
Father Early: That is a different way, that is right.
Comment: There is a difference between capitalized words and lower case words.
Father Early: But you have to be careful, because there were no capitals in the Greek.
Comment: I understand. And at that time, you have to remember, there was oral tradition. That is how you were taught, first by oral tradition. Even though the Jews may have known how to read and write Greek, prior to that it was oral tradition.
Father Early: That is exactly the point I was making, right.
Comment: That is how you bring in the Word, to hear it, and then apply it.
Father Early: So, we are to receive the Word, we are to be hearers of the Word, doers of the Word. We are not to just look at it, walk away, and forget it, but we are to, instead, peer intently, gaze intently, into it. But St. James takes the commandment a step further. Christians are required to continue in the gospel. Verse 25: “He who looks in the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer, but a doer. Let us talk about “continuing.” The Greek word is parameno, which normally is translated continue, but it literally means to remain alongside. Think about that. Para means beside, meno is to remain. Think about the idea of, literally, staying beside the Word, remaining alongside it. Does that mean, necessarily, literally, always carrying your Bible and saying, “Look I am beside it, it is right here in my hand?” Well, maybe, but there is more to it than that. It is more of a metaphorical staying beside it, or keeping it beside you. Father Farley points out that it is used by Paul in Philippians 1:23 for his remaining and continuing on earth. Remember that he said, I would like to remain with you, but I am torn, I want to go live with Christ, but I want to remain with you also, and it is better for you, so I am going to stay?
The thought here, in James’ Epistle, is of the Christian community constantly living in the company of the teaching, never leaving it. Do not leave the teaching. Do not leave the place where the teaching is— the community—keeping it in his mind. St. James states that we should not be a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work. He uses the words work and word, interchangeably. Isn’t that interesting? It is a one-letter difference in English, though of course in Greek it is totally different, but the Word should be a work within us. In other words, we should work on having the Word within us. We need to always put ourselves in a position where we are hearing the Word, reading the Word, studying the Word—do not let it go. If we do this, St. James assures us that we will be blessed.
Finally, he gives us some concrete examples of what it means to be doers of the Word. The first of these is a negative example. He says, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, that one’s religion is useless.” There it is again, a second time in this passage, control of the tongue, how important it is. Basically, he is saying, if you cannot control your tongue, your faith is useless. Not that it is totally useless, he would not say that it has no value whatsoever, but you are not putting it into practice, you are not being a doer of the Word, if you cannot control what you say.
Comment: You have, also, Jesus warning us that whatever comes out of our mouths is worse than what goes into our stomachs.
Father Early: That is right, exactly. The food we take in does not defile our bodies, but what comes out is what defiles us. Exactly, good point. St. James is always echoing the teaching of Jesus. He ought to, he is His brother, right? He sat under His teaching, and hung around with Jesus a lot, I imagine.
Control of the tongue: “A person who cannot control his speech, but nevertheless fancies himself as religious”—the Greek word could also be translated as pious, or even dedicated to God— “is only fooling himself and is really only a hearer of the Word, and not a doer.”
Finally, St. James gives a positive example. He says, do not be uncontrolling of your tongue, do not let your tongue go, but on the positive side, he talks about visiting orphans and widows in their trouble. “Keep yourself unspotted by the world.” We have world, Word, and work. This is like a tongue-twister, this passage. In referring to visiting orphans and widows, which is just one of many ways to help the needy, St. James is echoing the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, and the practice of the early Church. Remember, they took care of each other in the early Church. Works of mercy are not something that are just nice to do. “Oh, this is really nice, it makes me feel special.” There is more to it than that. They are not optional. They are part and parcel of the Christian life. Our Lord expects them of us, our Lord expects us to share with those in need, to help the helpless, help those who cannot help themselves.” This is the piety that truly brings reward from God. One’s hearing of the Word must be fulfilled in works, hearing must result in doing. The perfect law of Christ’s teaching counsels such acts of mercy, and such commandments to holiness.
We all need to be involved somehow, even if it is not a formal program, but even if you give some money to a neighbor who is in need, or some food, or someone who has lost a loved one. There are all kinds of ways to do that, but it ought to be part of our very fiber.
We need to keep ourselves pure from the world’s influence. Not only do we need to help those who are in need, but keep ourselves undefiled from the world. “The world, here, means the network of systems and relationships that oppose God. Not society, as such, but worldliness. St. James counsels, not physical withdrawal from society—most of us are not able to do that, nor should we—but he counsels inner detachment from the world. The world always exerts a pull on the believer, to drag him away from fidelity to God and from poverty of spirit. True piety will cling to God’s ways, showing mercy to the poor, and seeking only the Kingdom. We have to be in the world, but not of the world. In other words, we do not adopt the world’s values.
What are some of the world’s values? Making a lot of money, having a lot of stuff, having a lot of relaxation time, time off, laying around, being lazy. The things I just mentioned are the best things. And then there are things like controlling others, controlling who lives and who does not, stealing, lying. “It’s okay, it’s just a little lie”—relativism. You believe what you think, I believe what I think, and we are both right, even though we are arguing contradictory positions. Those are the kinds of things that we need to reject.
We do not need to take ourselves out of the world. Some do, some are blessed to do that, some become monastics and they are able to devote their entire lives to prayer. But those of us who are not able to do that, or are not called to do that, need to make that detachment on the inside, and reject the world’s standards. St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed instead.”
Comment: As a wind-up, one of the ways we can do that is to put our “John Henry” on the Manhattan Declaration.
Father Early: I do not know if you have all heard about that. It is a really great statement that was signed, originally, by 125 people who were either Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical or Protestant, affirming the sanctity of life, and the sanctity of traditional marriage. Bishop Basil was one of the original signers, I was really proud to see that, and so was Metropolitan Jonah of the OCA, and since then, something like 10,000 people now, or something like that?
Comment: Just go online and type manhattandeclaration.org.
Father Early: You can click to put your name on it as one of the signers. Last time I checked there were about 8,000 signers, and that was about a week ago. I signed it. I do not think the government is going to see that and change their mind, but they might.
Comment: The important thing is, by signing it, the statement says that we will do whatever it takes to uphold that, to witness, so that may mean going to jail.
Father Early: Check that out if you get time, you might want to go online and read it, and if you like it, sign it.