The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 4: The theological thrust of James

The phrase: ‘action speaks louder than words,’ finds an appropriate denotation with regards to the epistles theological and moral vision. As it seems to accentuate the concept of working faith that is animated by love that which is a feeling that begs to be expressed, as it gains personality in action, and like in all things that is put in reference to love: actions speak louder than words.

For James, the reception of God’s implanted word is not sufficient for it is in responding in action, that is to heed what it says that James seems to put extra weight on that is why he calls them to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (1:22) for doing and hearing are two different and yet related actions for one can hear and yet be passive thus according to James is mere self-deception. Using the analogy of a man facing a mirror James speaks of what can be seen as the goal of receiving the word: transformation!

This transformation that we speak of is that which results in pure what James calls as pure and undefiled religion that manifests itself in the ministry of: visiting orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.(1:27)

For it is in realizing our identity in Christ and becoming subjects to God’s word and its commands that we find liberty and ultimately change in our lives that now puts us back to that price, that ‘crown’ that steadfastness, that perfection and completion that he has put forward at the beginning of this chapter which leads to a religious conviction that is deemed commendable before the eyes of our Divine Father –a religion that takes care of those in the margins: the widows and the orphans who are deprived of the security that comes from having a ‘father’ and a ‘husband’ apart from the loving actions of those who are part of God’s household.

In this regard James highlights the importance of single-minded devotion to God, the role of testing and discipline in their relationship to wisdom, the power as well as the pernicious effects of speech, the connection between anger contest between righteousness and wickedness, which are closely associated with wisdom and foolishness. And while self-discipline plays an important role here, more important still is the communal dimension of life. Self-discipline is not an end in itself, but serves to foster the love and peace that ought to characterize the congregation of those who profess obedience to the one true God[1]. Thus themes such as communal interaction, power, and money, speech, testing and suffering weave their way through James as they do through the prophets, the wisdom literature and the Hellenistic moralists.[2].

Therefore, with regards to the portion of the epistle that will be covered in this paper the highlight will be the theological and moral argument for equality and as orthopraxy of communal identification (of the church) under the Lordship of Christ, which is a clear sign that indeed action speaks louder than words.

[1] Achtemeier, Paul et al. Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology p.500
[2] Achtemeier, Paul et al. Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology p.502

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