James Urges Clean and Active Worship
HOW do you view counsel from an older man? What if it is spiritually sound and quite straightforward? Will you follow it?
The letter of James, written before 62 C.E., contains such direct counsel. Its writer was an older man—one with some 30 years’ experience in dealing with the problems of his fellow worshipers. Yes, the Christian elder James, a half brother of Jesus Christ, could write frankly from firsthand experience. (Mark 6:3) Fortifying his dynamic style were pointed illustrations and penetrating questions making it clear that unclean, passive religion does not please Jehovah.
As guided by God, James gave sound instruction that is as practical today as it was in the first century. By reasoning on his divinely inspired counsel, we can obtain answers to some important questions. And his words should spur us onward in clean and active worship.
How Should We View Trials?
James wrote to the “twelve tribes” of spiritual Israel scattered throughout the then-known world. But his counsel also applies to the “great crowd.” (Revelation 7:4-9; Galatians 6:16) He urged fellow worshipers to view trials with joy because lasting happiness will result if we endure them in faith. We should confidently ask God for wisdom to live so as to please him, especially when facing trials. Jesus’ anointed followers who faithfully endure trial will receive the “crown of life,” immortality in heaven. Faithful endurance by the “great crowd” will result in eternal life on a Paradise earth.—James 1:1-12; Luke 23:43.
When experiencing trial, we should not conclude that God is trying to induce us to commit sin, for he does not do this. Rather, wrong desire within us serves as an inducement to sin. Jehovah is not the source of evil but of everything good, including the grand gift of spiritual birth.—James 1:13-18; Ephesians 1:13, 14.
What Is True Religion?
To be practicers of true religion, we must be quick to respond to God’s word obediently. We must also be slow about expressing anger and must rid ourselves of all that God considers filthy. Removing badness from heart and mind allows the word of truth to flourish there, and we must be not just hearers of the word but also doers of it, really letting the Scriptures be our guide. Consider this: After looking at his face in a mirror, a man goes away and forgets what sort of person he is. To worship Jehovah acceptably, however, we cannot be forgetful hearers. Rather, we must peer into the “perfect law,” embracing everything required of Christians, and must act in harmony with it.—James 1:19-25.
If God is to view us as true worshipers, we must also bridle the tongue, restraining it from slanderous talk, backbiting and the like. Moreover, from Jehovah’s standpoint, the worship that is “clean” (holy, pure) and “undefiled” (untainted by badness) includes active concern for the needy. Also required is ‘keeping ourselves without spot from the world’ of humans that do not serve God. We cannot please Jehovah while doing the unrighteous things the world does. Of course, James did not list all the requirements of true worship. But he did show that genuine service to Jehovah is clean and active.—James 1:26, 27.
Is There Anything Wrong With Class Distinctions?
James showed that clean worship also calls for impartiality in dealing with the rich and the poor alike. Some professing Christians were rendering wicked decisions by showing favoritism to the rich and thus making class distinctions. May we never become guilty of such ungodly partiality!—James 2:1-4.
Surely, Christians must admit that, as a class, the rich have blasphemed Christ’s name by persecuting his followers. Therefore, rather than sinning by having class distinctions and showing favoritism to the wealthy, we should follow the “kingly law” by displaying love for all our neighbors. How can we expect to enjoy God’s mercy if we are not merciful and loving toward the poor? Indeed, class distinctions within the congregation would not harmonize with clean worship.—James 2:5-13; Matthew 22:39; Acts 10:34, 35.
How Can We Prove That We Have Faith?
The apostle Paul showed that it is not through works of the Mosaic Law but because of their faith in Jesus Christ that people are declared righteous by Jehovah God. (Romans 3:19-28) James agreed with this, but pointed out that our faith must be proved to be alive by the godly works it motivates us to do. Faith that does not prompt us to do good works is not genuine and will not result in our salvation. To illustrate: If a fellow believer is insufficiently clad and lacks food, words alone will not help him; there must be tangible aid. Even the demons believe there is one God, but they perform no good works. So professed faith without good works to back it up is inactive, having no effectiveness as regards the attaining of salvation. Abraham, the “father” of all those having true faith, showed his faith by works when he offered up Isaac. Rahab also had active faith, for she was “declared righteous by works” in protecting the Israelite spies. Hence, whereas mere professed faith is as lifeless as a corpse, by engaging in properly motivated Christian works we prove that we have genuine living faith.—James 2:14-26.
Why Control the Tongue?
Clean, active worship also calls for definite action in controlling the tongue. For one thing, all Christians—and especially teachers in the congregation—must avoid expressing wrong views. James indicated that as horses can be controlled by bridles, we can control the rest of our sin-inclined bodies if we bridle the tongue. Why, even a large ship can be manipulated by a small rudder! But if we fail to control the tongue, it can cause widespread devastation, as does a raging fire. By means of slander, false testimony, misrepresentation and the like, the unbridled tongue also “spots up” the whole body, defiling the speaker’s entire self. Moreover, the uncontrolled tongue can set aflame the whole course of life and can be destructive like Gehenna.—James 3:1-6.
Of course, tongue control takes great effort. Although sinful man has trained all sorts of animals, he has not been able to achieve perfect tongue control. But we must work at restraining the tongue. Because the uncontrolled tongue can make abusive, slanderous remarks, can mislead through false teaching, and so forth, it is an injurious thing filled with death-dealing poison. And just think how inappropriate it would be to misuse the tongue—created primarily to praise God—to call down evil upon humans he has created! This would be as incongruous as getting both sweet and bitter water from the same fountain or olives from fig trees.—James 3:7-12.
Who Really Is Wise?
True wisdom is needed by all Christians and especially by teachers of others engaging in clean worship. A truly wise person shows proper fear of God and is meek. In fact, to serve acceptably as a teacher a man must be mild, not harsh, proud and opinionated. Moreover, jealousy and contentiousness certainly do not befit a Christian teacher or any other follower of Christ. Rather, the wisdom of those having such ungodly traits is animalistic, even demonic.—James 3:13-16.
Heavenly wisdom is chaste, peaceable, reasonable and “ready to obey.” For instance, the reasonable Christian teacher does not make mere assertions. And among other things, heavenly wisdom is full of “good fruits,” which include all actions that harmonize with goodness, righteousness and truth. Naturally, for righteousness to flourish, there must be peace. Teachers and others in the congregation who promote peace show that they really are wise.—James 3:17, 18.
How Can We Prevent Strife?
The peace of James’ fellow worshipers was being disrupted because some among them were guilty of such things as showing favoritism, improperly judging others and yielding to jealousy. This resulted in congregational strife. And what was the source of this fighting? Why, unfulfilled cravings for sensual gratification! Such wrong desires led to rank covetousness and to a hateful, murderous spirit.—James 4:1-3.
To prevent congregational strife we must shun friendship with the world, which constitutes spiritual adultery. This calls for avoiding the attitude, goals, methods and actions of the world of people alienated from God. Though the tendency to envy promotes strife and exerts great pressure on sinful humans, it can be counteracted through God’s spirit, certainly an expression of his undeserved kindness. That help is available to Jehovah’s humble servants who persistently pray for his assistance and obey him. They can successfully oppose the Devil. Of course, any professing Christians who have manifested a wrong attitude should draw close to God in prayer, humble themselves before him and desist from speaking against their brothers or unjustly judging them. How improper it is for sinful humans to judge their neighbors when Jehovah is the Supreme Lawgiver and Judge!—James 4:4-12.
Avoiding boastful self-confidence will also contribute to congregational peace. Since life in this system is like a mist that vanishes, we would be foolish to concentrate on it and brag about what we plan to do. Rather, at least in our hearts we should say, “If Jehovah wills.” After all, we can accomplish nothing lasting without his favor and help, and he does require humility and acknowledgment of him as the source of life and all good things. We should act in accord with this knowledge, for to do otherwise is to sin.—James 4:13-17.
Why Exercise Patience?
Among other things, James next emphasized the need to exercise patience. Likely, within the congregations there were a few rich persons who realized, as he did, that material wealth is worthless as compared with the spiritual riches Christians possess. However, as a class, the rich oppressed the poor and opposed the righteous. James indicated that we must bear these and other hardships with patience until judgment comes upon the oppressors during the “presence of the Lord” Jesus Christ. We need to be like the farmer who patiently awaits the harvest. If we were to become impatient and failed to endure faithfully, we would lose out on the relief and blessings that come during the Lord’s presence.—James 5:1-8.
As true worshipers, we must also be patient with our fellow believers, not becoming vexed with them, improperly groaning or sighing deeply against them in a spirit of great dissatisfaction. James next pointed out that Jehovah’s prophets furnish an example of suffering evil and exercising patience. Like Job of old, we can take comfort in the fact that we will experience Jehovah’s great compassion and mercy if we patiently endure with clean hearts firmly fixed on God.—James 5:9-11.
How Effective Is Prayer?
After admonishing fellow Christians not to be taking indiscriminate and frivolous oaths, James urged them to be prayerful. Especially is prayer important if one suffers spiritual weakness or sickness. It would then be appropriate to call the congregation’s older men, who can express comforting Scriptural reminders that are like soothing oil. These elders will pray over the one needing help, and such “prayer of faith” will be effective. Jehovah will forgive the sins that a humble, repentant person may have committed and will restore him to spiritual health. That “a righteous man’s supplication . . . has much force” is proved by the fact that the prayers of Elijah were answered by Jehovah.—James 5:12-18.
What if a Christian should wander away from the path of truth? Spiritually qualified individuals should try to help him by means of earnest prayer and diligent application of God’s Word. If the erring one is thus ‘turned back from the error of his way,’ his soul—the sinner himself—will be saved from condemnation and eternal death.
The person who reproved him has thus worked toward the covering over, or pardoning, of the erring one’s sins.—James 5:19, 20.
Press On in Clean Worship
The letter of James pointedly answers a number of vital questions, as we have observed. But how will we personally view this divinely inspired counsel from an experienced older man? It is straightforward and spiritually sound. So will we follow it?
If we earnestly apply the counsel of James, it will help us to endure trials, to practice true religion, to avoid showing favoritism and to prove by good works that we have genuine, living faith. Moreover, it will assist us to control the tongue, to act with heavenly wisdom, to prevent congregational strife and to exercise patience as humble, prayerful witnesses of Jehovah. In essence, because of following the counsel of James, we will be better able to honor our loving heavenly Father by pressing on in clean and active worship.