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Right words with no action are hollow

September 16, 2022

Daily Scripture

James 2:18-19

18 Someone might claim, “You have faith and I have action.” But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action. 19 It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

We may think “God is one” (verse 19) is just one idea we heard in a philosophy class or Bible study. James, like Jesus, was a first-century Jew, for whom “God is one” was not just one idea among many. “God is one: This is the Jewish profession of faith known as the Shema Israel: “Israel, listen!” (Deuteronomy 6:4).” * Through centuries of oppression by Greeks, Romans and other peoples with their pantheons of multiple gods, faithful Jews had died to hold to the faith that “God is one.”

  • James continued, with an almost desperate intensity, to tell his readers that saying “the right words” (even the centrally right set of words many of them had learned since they were children) did not by itself make them citizens of God’s kingdom. In English we sometimes call that “lip service.” How did his teaching here again align closely with what Jesus himself had taught (cf. Matthew 7:21-23)?
  • With pointed irony, James noted one group that could repeat all the right words. “If intellectual orthodoxy is what faith means, the devil and his hordes are champions of orthodoxy. They well know who God is, what he has done, and what he wants from us…. But they are not believers…. because they are not lovers.” ** What person(s) and experience(s) helped you move from being a rebel to being, in the deepest, most life-changing way, a lover?

King Jesus, moving from thinking and theorizing into action can be a hard, scary shift. You made it when you came to save me. Guide me as I make that shift, to love you and your beloved creation. Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe & his wife, Doris, first met in a Resurrection Single Adult Sunday School class in 1997 & were married in what is now the Student Center. They are empty nesters with 2 college-aged sons, Matthew & Jacob. Darren serves as a Couples Small Group co-leader & Men's Group Leader, while volunteering in a variety of other capacities at Resurrection.

Today’s passage prompted me to “lunch” at Crown Center with Mr. Joseph Kerr, author of the autobiographical book of his life as a professional poker player on the French Riviera entitled, “Oui – Three Kings.”

DL: Mr. Kerr, tell us a bit about your book.

Joe Kerr: Please, call me Joe. I’ve been shuffling around the international poker circuit for 50 years & my book recounts some of interesting characters I’ve encountered like, The Queen of Clubs – the ruthless owner & proprietor of various cabarets, One-Eyed-Jack – the notorious eye-patch-wearing gangster, The King of Hearts – the mysterious cardiologist, & Auntie Uhp – the greedy spinster.

DL: That’s quite a full house. A professional gambler is an interesting occupation for a man of faith.

Joe Kerr: Well, for years gambling & card playing has always been associated with the shadier elements of society. Being raised Baptist, I know this full well, but as I told my Mom, “Even Adam & Eve had their pair of dice.” Today, gambling is just a form of business, like playing the stock market. I came to faith when I lost everything in a major competition. I returned to my hotel room absolutely despondent. I opened the nightstand drawer & saw a Gideon Bible. I began reading through Job & felt real connection. I moved on to the Gospels & I was hooked.

DL: What’s your take on our friend James?

Joe Kerr: I love the guy. His life is fascinating to consider. Here he’s the half-brother of Jesus, but doesn’t come to faith until he sees the resurrected Jesus. (For those of us who regret becoming believers later in life, James is a real comfort.) He then becomes a great leader of the Christians in Jerusalem earning the nickname, “James the Just,” & is ultimately martyred by stoning. But, I gotta say, he’d make a terrible poker player.

DL: Why is that?

Joe Kerr: He doesn’t know how to bluff or finesse an opponent. His “tells” or clues about the quality of his cards would be so transparent. His “yes” means “yes” & his “no” means “no.” He would not only stand out at a poker table, but also in society. Anyone whose actions are in sync with what they say is pretty rare.

DL: We seem to live in a society that enjoys pontificating about how virtuous we are. I love the Ralph Waldo Emerson anecdote about the dinner guest: “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.” 1 (Since most families of that era viewed their silver spoons as their most valuable possessions, it meant that someone who bragged about their honesty deserved careful scrutiny.)

Joe Kerr: Good point. It’s like the boss who goes on & on about the importance of work/life balance & then proceeds to email/text you after hours or through the weekend. Or the Mom who proclaims how she loves to watch her daughter play soccer & then scrolls through her social media feeds during the entire game.

DL: Or maybe the young father promising his infant son that he’ll never lie to him & then 4 years later finds himself on a road trip to Estes Park saying, “Sorry, son, but the McDonald’s in Colorado don’t sell Happy Meals.”

Joe Kerr: Exactly. But with hypocrisy seemingly so prevalent in our society, how do we avoid the temptation to be an insincere believer?

DL: What if we started with examining what we believe and why, & ask ourselves, “What exactly does a life with Christ look like?”

We could review our home life. Does our décor, our entertainment options, our interactions with family members, our reading material, our calendar, or even our checkbook, reflect a life with Christ? We could start small & focus on one item at a time.

We could then consider our social life. Are our social media postings, our interactions with friends, neighbors, & strangers, our (gulp) driving habits, or our social activities in sync with a Christian life?

Finally, we could look at our work life. Would our colleagues be shocked/stunned to discover we were believers in Christ or would they nod their heads & say, “Yep, that makes sense.”

Joe Kerr: Those are great tips. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to visit the men’s room.

DL: Well, since we are at The Crown Center, it should be a royal flush.

Joe Kerr: (Sigh.)

1Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Conduct of Life. 1860.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Patrick J. Hartin, study note on James 2:19 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 457NT.
** David A. Hubbard, The Book of James: Wisdom That Works. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1980, p. 67.