Make me a servant Lord, make me like you
For you are a servant, make me one too
The Epistle of James used to make me uncomfortable. I think I felt this way because I grew up in a Christian tradition that tends to associate “works” with personal piety. So when I walked down the aisle to accept Jesus through baptism at 12 years old, I did so because I thought I was going to go to hell for cussing. That may be laughable now, but I was convinced that good “works” meant not cussing, being nice, and avoiding sex before marriage. I thought that the only way someone would know my faith is by how much I prayed and acted like a good Christian girl. The irony is that Jesus rarely spoke about personal piety and instead demonstrated that the gospel is good news for those who society makes the “other.”
To love my brother, to serve like you do
And through my service, I'll be just like you
So make me a servant, make me like you
Through the life of Jesus we are shown how value in a person is not dependent on their gender, ethnicity, or economic status- but because they are simply a beloved child of God. This is why I think the epistle of James is supposed to make us uncomfortable. James challenges us to see how solidarity with the poor and the oppressed should be the response to our faith in the gospel. The fact that there is a “go and make” in our calling may make some uncomfortable; and, I get it. When “works” becomes only about yourself or your reward then it is not truly the works of Christ. Afterall, Christ’s good news radically changed how to see community, love, and self. Through the Holy Spirit we cannot help but act on our faith through works of justice and love. In some sense, our works do serve as a validation of our faith in the God who liberates the oppressed.
Despite what some may think (I’m looking at you Martin Luther), James was not denying justification by faith but insisted “that faith be made manifest in its complete form, for only then can it be considered truly alive” (Elsa Tamez, The Scandalous Message of James, 67). For Christians, the “complete form” of our faith is when we live out on Earth as it is in Heaven. This requires action not just lip service. This is why James insists that “faith by itself… is dead.” My favorite theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, says that justification “is not a unique event, pin-pointed to a certain moment in time. It is a process which begins in the individual heart through faith, and leads to the just new world. This process begins with the forgiveness of sins and ends with the wiping away of all tears” (Jurgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 183).
Open my hands Lord and teach me to share
Open my heart Lord and teach me to care
For service to others is service to you
Make me a servant, make me like you
So, no, the “works” James speaks about in chapter 2 is probably not about whether or not we should have sex before marriage or drink at that party. It's probably about what happens when we consistently walk past a person, who happens to be homeless, without recognizing their humanity, or when we stand by silently as someone bullies someone about their sexuality, or maybe when we talk behind the eccentric church ladies back- instead of seeing her gifts and calling as valuable and cherished. Forgive us, God. And start with me, please.
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2: 15-17)
Sometimes, discomfort is good. Lean into it.
MTS Student at Wesley Theological Seminary
Worships with National City Christian Church