Friday, June 27, 2008

The only thing that counts...

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
- Galaians 5:6 (NIV)

As many times as I had read Galatians in my life, you would have thought that I would have noticed that one before. This came as no big surpise to me, given the journey that Father has taken me on over the past couple of years, but I still thought it was a pretty cool way of stating what the 'work' of faith actually is.


This week my local congregation has been holding a Youth VBS in the evenings called 'Wild Week'. It wasn't as wild as this, but was still fun and interesting and God did stir the hearts of some of the teens that were there. One of the nights the guest speaker used James 3:17.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. -- James 3:17 (NIV)

The thing that frustrated me was the fact that he focused on all the attributes (purity, peace-loving, considerate, etc.) and encouraged the students to 'act' in that manner. However in context James isn't asking us to 'act' this way. Instead, he's telling us what this kind of wisdom looks like, and 'if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.' (James 1:5) I really wished he would have mentioned that.


If you are familiar with the history of the cannon of Scripture then you know that James barely made it in, and during the Reformation it nearly got booted out -- Martin Luther called it an 'epistle of straw'. What gets James into trouble even today is his statement, 'You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.' (James 2:24) I'm going to be honest here and say that this is a real problem in Scripture because it does directly disagree with entire rest of the New Testament. I don't know what happened here, poor choice of words by James or a bad copy by someone later, who knows. At any rate, reading back through James you do get the sense that he would agree with Paul that the 'work' of faith is love. So I present here an interesting substitution of the word 'love' for 'works' in James' controversial passage:

But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have love; show me your faith without love, and I will show you my faith by my love." You believe that God is one You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without love is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by love when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was expressed in his love for God, and as a result of love, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by love and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by love when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without love is dead. -- Adapted from James 2:18-26 (NIV)


asharpfamily said...

Nice blog Rick. I enjoyed the possibilities that you raise. Does the Greek word "works" and the Greek word "love" (as they were originally written) have a commonality or root that allows this interchange? Just curious if you came across something that could shed light on this.

Rick Gibson said...

Hey Roger,
No love and works aren't interchangeable words in the Greek, so I couldn't get away with this as a translator. Rather I was wondering what kind of 'work' was James thinking of when he wrote this. The literal translation of Galatians 5:6 is 'faith through love working' pointed me in this direction. That plus the fact that James says, "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right." (James 2:8), gave me the inspiration to make the substitution here.

This is kind of like when you take 1 Corinthians 13 (as a believer) and substitute 'God' everywhere you see 'Love', and then ask yourself if you really believe that about God? Since God is Love.

asharpfamily said...


Thanks for the clarification. I enjoyed this :)