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Favouritsm and Works James 2:1-10 & 14-17

9.9.2012 10.30am Family Service

Show blue/white and red/white football scarves.

Who supports what football team? How do you choose whom to support? Local? Successful? Players we like?

Suppose God had a favourite team wouldn't it be terrible if the results were always rigged because one team had God on their side?

Reading: James 2:1-10 & 14-17

Who is the richest person in the UK? How much money do they have? What would we do if someone from that top 10 list chose to join this church? Would we give them a special seat? We would take more notice of what they had to say than anyone else?

Ask for volunteer to come up, ask about them, and give them a seat and a chocolate. Ask for another volunteer and then tell them to go and stand over by the side without a chocolate. Do same with a couple more.

Ask how people think I've behaved. Ask how volunteers feel? How could I put things right? Give chocolates and introduce in the same way as did the favoured ones. This is what we do when we do when we only talk to certain people or won't sit by some people.

James' teaching is for all of us. All of us meet people every day and so we all have opportunity to treat people as God tells us to do here – without favouritism.

Thinking back to my box of chocolates. Who likes what chocolates? What's your favourite?

Who likes soft caramel?

Who likes the hard toffees?

Who likes strawberry creams?

Who likes nutty ones?

Who likes plain chocolates?

Who likes the really rich looking ones wrapped in gold?

Who likes them all?

If you do that's good – that's like Jesus when it comes to people. Jesus doesn't have favourites – He loves us all.

Some people are:-

A bit stern – with a hard centre – Jesus loves them.

Are a bit nutty – Jesus loves them.

Soft and sweet – like strawberry creams – Jesus loves them.

Just plain and he loves them just as much as the rich ones wrapped in gold. How do we know?

Well in the reading we had this morning it clearly tells us not to show favouritism to some people instead of others. We might have favourite football teams or chocolates; we might even have favourite people too. But Jesus tells us we must love all our neighbours (the people around us) the same.

I wonder what's Jesus' favourite chocolate? We don't know, He probably loves them all. What's his favourite person? We DO know this - he loves us all. (Give children something to do and begin adult talk)

There's a touch of irony about my talking about 'favourites' whilst we are looking the letter of James, (which is what we are doing at the moment) and will be doing for a few weeks. Rather a lot of people say this is their favourite book in the Bible. I think that is because it is such a basic, down-to-earth practical book and this makes it easy to understand. If you missed the beginning last week you can look it up on the website, but just let me tell you that is one of the earliest of the NT writings and it is written by Jesus' brother James.

It is also a book that has caused some controversy. Martin Luther (Reformation) wanted to take it out of the Bible, because of how Catholics misunderstood it's teaching on works. He described it as 'an epistle of straw' (letter).

This was because it is a book that talks a lot about 'works'. This appears to be in stark contrast to St Paul's writings about our being saved by faith alone.

Many have misunderstood it and tried to use it to prove you have to work your way to heaven. The entire New Testament teaches that we are saved by faith alone. By grace, through faith. But James is saying it's not just faith, it's works too. Which is right - James or Paul? They're both right because they are talking about different things.

Paul was fighting the problem of 'legalism', those who thought they had to keep the 619 Jewish laws and regulations to be a Christian.

James is not fighting those with the exact opposite point of view: those who think that Jesus' death means that as long as you believe it doesn't matter what you do.

Their arguments are therefore aimed at two very different groups of people and consequently they are using the word 'works' in different ways.

Paul is talking about Jewish laws like circumcision etc. When James uses it, he's talking about Christian lifestyle, acts of loving kindness etc.

Paul is looking at how we are saved to eternal life. Salvation: what happens inside, in our hearts. James is looking at how our faith shows itself in our lives, what do others see on the outside? As Jesus had said, "By their fruits you will know them.

So Paul is talking about, how we become a believer and know we're a Christian and James is talking about, how we behave and show we're a Christian. So in fact they are not contradicting each other. Works of the law that are just outward religious acts to make it look like we are a Christian do not give us salvation and eternal life. It is those who don't just believe in Jesus but trust and obey Him will, by His Holy Spirit, do works that serve to build up the Kingdom of God

It is often the case that if you put the word 'real' in front of anything it sells more: real coffee, real leather etc. There's even a book called 'Real Men Don't Eat Quiche' and, according to my children, 'Coke a Cola' is the real thing.

James is talking about 'real' faith. Lots of people today, as in James' time think they're Christians and aren't. He's talking about how we can have real faith. And, in fact, re-stating what Jesus taught: it is by a person fruit that you know them.

Jesus is the source of works in people of faith, and those works are the 'fruit'. We wouldn't expect an apple tree to produce bananas. An apple tree bears apples because it is the nature of the tree to do that. Similarly Christians bear fruit of the spirit because it's the nature of the Holy Spirit to do that. So when James says faith produces 'works' (good deeds) he's not talking about keeping religious laws. He's talking about works that are the fruit of the Spirit.

This is important because Jesus also said that "many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!"

The Bible shows both sides, we're justified in the eyes of God by faith alone, impossible to achieve through works of law. But equally other people must be able to see by our behaviour that there is real faith in us. James says real faith is not something you just say, feel, think or believe it's something you DO. James and Paul both teach that it is faith in Christ alone that justifies us, but they also teach that a genuine, sincere, real, saving faith is always accompanied by good works. Not good works done to achieve salvation, but works that naturally flow from a born-again heart. Those who are saved love Jesus AND their neighbours. They live to serve the Lord and His people.