The Praise of Your Mouth and the Work of Your Hands

It’s been said so much, that I think we are either tired of hearing it, or don’t even understand it.

It’s found in the letter of James, in the New Testament, and is part of our reading today. Here it is:

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:18; NIV84)

The idea of a “new creation” is way overused. And a bit difficult for us. To be re-formed and re-made is, in and of itself, a miracle. James’ way of writing it, though, gives it a different slant.

We were purposed to be new. We were purposed to be re-made. It was God’s actual will to “give us birth,” again.

God has an investment in you. It was his design to make you completely new, into the best of his entire creation.

The letter of James, then, gives us an idea of what that sort of new creation looks like. Traditionally considered to have been written by Jesus’ brother, James, it is a letter from the pillar of the emerging church in the city of Jerusalem, in the decades following Jesus’ passion. It was written from the epicenter of God’s work in human history, from the city of the ages, and from the beginning place of the new covenant.

So, if the James of the letter is truly the James of Jesus’ family, it is a letter of immense proportions. But even if it isn’t, it still is powerful.

At first, though, it seems like a slight to the message of grace, which is THE central message of the New Testament, because it prescribes behaviors (called “works” in the letter), and that has made lots of scholars, through the centuries, a bit nervous. The central question that emerged was how the prescribed lifestyle of James actually gels with the freedom from religious behaviors found in grace.

It does, once you consider the verse above. These behaviors, these “works,” aren’t dictated for believers. They are the evidence of a completely changed life — of a life re-created. In the first chapter alone, look at what must be different in a life given to Jesus:

  • Trials are received with joy (1:2-7).
  • There is a blessing in financial humility, and a detriment in financial prosperity (1:9-11).
  • Temptations come from our own selfish ambitions and desires (1:13-18).
  • Anger doesn’t produce a righteous life (1:19-25).
  • The “least of these” become your first priority (1:26, 27).

And then, in chapter three, James turns towards the power of a teacher, and that even teachers should have re-created lives. Teaching is not a position of status, but of extreme humility. So, those who believe to be called by God to teach have a special consideration: watch what you say.

(It’s interesting that for most of my life, this famous chapter has been used to keep people from saying really, really bad things. If we look at it in light of James’ warning in 3:1-2, and that people should not aspire to be teachers because of the immense weight of influence, then the entire chapter changes. True, everyone should have full control over what they say, but that’s dealt with in other passages in the Word of God. James, here, is talking about what comes from the mouths of teachers. So, if you are a teacher, pastor, worship leader, mentor, preacher, or ministry leader, read James 3 as if he is talking to you.)

I think what James writes in chapter 1 suffices for a conclusion today. The behaviors in this letter mark us as re-created. If we do these things, for vanity or power (James 3:1, 2), then we’ve not been changed. But if they flow from our hearts, they become the qualities of a new life. But how are we to know?

We ask for wisdom. “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” (1:5).

God destined you to be re-created. Does the praise of your mouth match the work of your hands? Big question today, and a question worth asking every day.

__________

Today is day 77. Only 13 more days.

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