James introduces this section by suggesting a problem he must have observed. “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” Certainly we’d all agree that faith should show itself through deeds of loving service.
In a recent Bible study discussion, I marveled at my pastor husband, David’s comment about this text. He posed an interesting scenario of observing a discussion about faith between our author here, James, and the apostle Paul. We’d see two very faithful men with two very different perspectives. Is that a bad thing? After all, the gospels all talk about Jesus’ life and ministry from different viewpoints. When it comes to understanding our faith, these differences can be confusing.
My self-confidence as a child was next to nothing. I was always picked last for games at recess, and I was often teased for being plumper than the other girls. It didn’t matter that my parents were proud of me or that teachers liked me. I never felt like I was good enough. My first husband added to that insecurity with his abuse and harsh words. Paul’s words truly liberate me, even today.
We don’t have to stress out about our own abilities. It is in Christ we can have all the confidence we need. He will never let us down. Paul reminds his audience of his Jewish credentials, but still his humility shines through. He acknowledges even he was nothing without Christ. The same is true for us. Whether we are popular or not, our value lies in our connection to Jesus.
David warned me the Book of Galatians would have its challenging passages. I had underlined a lot of what we read today at some point in my life, and verses 20-21 even got a little star by it. This must be important stuff. But then again, all of the Bible is “important stuff” that we should be consuming and using as our “life’s instruction manual.”
What’s up with Peter? And why did Paul put this little vignette in his story right before one of the most impactful of verses? I feel like Peter was really concerned for appearances. It was fine to share a meal with the Gentiles (of all people) when nobody was looking. But then as soon as some Jews show up, he steps away and back into being just Jewish. Didn’t there used to be a delightful British comedy called, “Keeping Up Appearances” following the life of Hyacinth?