(75) A person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone – James 2:24

Between Hebrews and Revelation, the last book of the Bible, there are seven letters from close associates of Jesus during his time on earth. Peter and John were two of his twelve apostles while James and Jude were Jesus’ brothers. Because they are so small – 2 John and 3 John are less than half the length of this article – they are shown on mini-shelves on the Bible Bookcase.

James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem and he addresses his letter primarily to Jews, encouraging them to stand firm in the face of trials. He even tells them to be joyful when experiencing trials as persevering in our commitment to God in all circumstances is the path to maturity.

James writes a lot about the importance of what we say, He tells us to “be quick to listen” and “slow to speak” (James 1:19) as, although the tongue is just a small part of the body, it can have a hugely negative impact. James calls it “a world of evil among the parts of the body” (James 3:6). Men can tame animals but cannot tame their own tongues. Like a horse that is controlled by a small bit or a ship that is steered by a tiny rudder, so the person who can control what they say will avoid many pitfalls.

While Paul emphasizes the importance of justification by faith – the fact that we cannot earn our salvation by what we do – James emphasizes the importance of demonstrating our faith through deeds. He is challenging those who claim to believe but whose lives don’t reflect that faith. He, like Paul, uses the example of Abraham and says that his faith was no good without deeds, as his actions provided the evidence for his faith. He concludes that “a person is considered righteous [or justified] by what they do and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). This doesn’t contradict the message that we can do nothing to earn our justification, it just indicates the importance of true faith. Paul agrees: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).

We have two letters that Peter, the leader of the twelve apostles, wrote to churches. 1 Peter contains a lot of practical teaching on living the Christian life, including how to deal with trials and suffering, our relationship to civil authorities and the importance of loving one another.

A dilemma that faces every Christian is how to share the good news that we have with others. We have all seen over-zealous Christians who ram the message down the throats of everyone they come into contact with which can have a very negative impact. Peter, who was always the first to open his mouth in every situation, has some wise advice. He tells us first to “Live such good lives among people that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12). It is when our lives become the message that we will get the questions, so we must “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

2 Peter was written shortly before Peter’s execution. As one of the remaining eye-witnesses to Jesus’ life on earth Peter underlines the importance of remembering his teaching and of the Old Testament scriptures which were inspired by the Holy Spirit. He refers to “our dear brother Paul’s” letters as “Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16), indicating that the New Testament books were circulating among the churches a few decades after Jesus’ death. He denounces false teachers and stresses the importance of being prepared for Jesus’ return to earth by being “spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:14). He warns that many will scoff at such an idea, denying that the world was created by God’s word and ignoring the fact that he will one day bring it to an end (see Peter 3:3-10).

Both James and Peter were greatly used by God in their generation and have left us a legacy in their letters, but both were humble and left the same message for those of us who would think too highly of ourselves: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6, similar to James 4:10).

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