Through the Bible with Les Feldick
LESSON 3 * PART 1 * BOOK 53
The Legalist Viewpoint of James
James 1:24 – 3:6
I think, over the years, if I have opened a lot of people’s eyes to one concept of Bible study, it is that you should always determine first and foremost, “To whom is the Scripture that you’re reading addressed?” Is the Scripture you’re reading addressed to Israel? Or, is it addressed to the Gentile church, the Body of Christ we’re living in today, which was all written by the Apostle Paul?
The Apostle Paul wrote to us in the Church Age, and the other writers wrote to the Nation of Israel. And knowing that just solves a multitude of problems, and answers important questions on salvation, and how to get along in life, and the order in the local Church and so forth.
Now we’re in the letter of James and we’ll be going on in the days ahead to the other little Jewish epistles. James; I and II Peter; I, II and III John; Jude and Revelation. And those are all primarily written to the Jew.
Now, come back to James chapter 1 verse 1, just for a little review and to make the point that these little letters are not written to the Gentile church. When Paul wrote to the Gentile church, he would begin in some of his epistles, “Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ writing to you Gentiles.” But in these Jewish epistles we’ve got just the opposite. James says:
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.”
Now language can’t make it any plainer than that. Where were these twelve tribes that James is addressing? Turn to I Peter chapter 1, and you’ve got the same scenario, only now Peter gives us a geographical area.
I Peter 1:1
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers (in other words, the Jews of the dispersion, and where are they?) scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.”
Now where are all those geographical areas? Well, in what we would today call the land of Turkey. The land of Turkey was where Paul labored the most, in Galatia and Ephesus on the western coast. And then you take those seven letters to churches in the Book of Revelation, they’re all in what today is the land of Turkey.
Now the reason that so many of these Jews are being written to in that area of the world goes back to Christ’s earthly ministry – we find that those Jews had become believers that He was the Messiah – and of course were incorporated in what we call the Jerusalem Assembly there in early Acts. And then after Christ ascended back to glory, Peter and the Eleven keep on preaching to the Jews in the area of Jerusalem and Judaea; and that Jerusalem Assembly of Jewish believers grew and grew, to where it was probably several thousand. Because you know, it was probably three thousand on the Day of Pentecost alone.
And then just a few years later, in comes old Saul of Tarsus with his intense persecution – and so what happened to all those thousands of Jews in Jerusalem? They scattered for their lives. And, evidently, the biggest percentage of them went up into Asia Minor, or what is today Turkey. And so, these Jewish congregations that are now established up there in Asia Minor and Galatia and so forth, they have formed little congregations patterned after the Jerusalem church. Now there’s not one word, and I have to emphasize this without apology,there is not one word of Paul’s doctrines in these little Jewish epistles. There’s not a word regarding the Gentiles, there’s not a word regarding the Body of Christ. There’s not a word regarding the power of the Gospel in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for salvation. All their little congregations were all patterned for these Jews scattered out there and practicing their Messianic faith along with legalism. They’re still adherents of the Law, they’ll still go to the Temple whenever they get a chance. But, here they’ve been scattered because of the persecution arising around Stephen, and so forth.
Now the other point I like to make is as we did in those earlier programs introducing these epistles – they all thought the writers of Scriptures assumed that all of this was going to be winding up in a few years and the Lord would come and set up His Kingdom. Now don’t ever lose sight of that. All of these Jewish believers are looking for the soon coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom Age. But, before the Messiah could return what had to happen? The seven years of Tribulation. And the Tribulation was just as much a promise of suffering and turmoil and persecution as what we’re looking at today. All right, so if you’ll reflect back now, on one of the first programs where I introduced these letters, I made the point that these letters are written to Jews facing imminent trials and persecutions of the Tribulation, waiting for Christ to come.
But, Christ didn’t come and God set everything out in the future, and so I thought of it in a concept last night. Iris knows I didn’t sleep much last night, I guess because of this afternoon.But, I came to this concept that it was established that the Old Testament prophecies now were going to be interrupted and God is going to turn to the Gentile world through the Apostle Paul, and call out the Body of Christ, for now almost 2,000 years. We have come full circle. And that’s the way I’m going to present it.
From the time that God left off dealing with the Nation of Israel, sent them into dispersion, opened up the Age of Grace, and now after 2,000 years, we have come full circle and we are right back to almost the same scenario. Oh I know it’s different population-wise; whereas back then the world’s population was probably 500-600 million at the most. Today we’re over six billion. Back there, of course, they still fought with swords and spears and animals were their chief beasts of burden and today we’ve got all our technology. But, in the realm of geo-politics, in the realm of economics, in the realm of empires, in the realm of Israel’s position in the land (and now the prospect of the Tribulation coming in the near future), hey it’s almost deja vu all over again.
And so now these letters are so appropriate for Jews who will be saved during the Tribulation. And so the reason I’m doing all this introduction is there’s this constant reference to the Law, and this is getting them ready for Tribulation pressure. Get ready to suffer for your faith. Well, they were in that scenario back there in the Roman Empire and when the Tribulation hits, they’re going be under it again.
I hope you’re watching Western Europe. I’ve been telling my classes that for 30 years. That’s your revived Roman Empire and out of that revived Roman Empire is going to come all the events associated with the anti-Christ and the Tribulation and so forth. Now, I’ve got a gentleman, I’ve referred to him before – and Charles must spend hours in some big library, and he sends me clippings from newspapers from all over the world. He sent me one the other day that just almost made me hit the ceiling – because over the last couple of years, the European community has been expanding from ten, twelve, fourteen, fifteen countries (and last week another bunch was added to it), and I suppose a lot of people thought, well Les was wrong. He thought the first ten nations at the beginning of the revised Roman Empire and so forth was going to be the ten toes of Daniel, but it can’t be, because now they’re almost twenty.
This is what he read. He sent me an article out of the Financial Times in London and this big wheel in the European Community said, “Oh yeah, we’re growing in numbers but we’ll always rest on the Ten.” And isn’t that exactly what I’ve always said? I said, I don’t care how many nations go into the European Community, the original Ten are going to be like veto power in the United Nations. And so watch Western Europe as well as the Middle East.
So, we’ve come full circle and here Israel’s back in the land, and out of their dispersion, at least partly. The Roman Empire is reappearing. And the whole geo-political and economic and religious systems and everything are almost back to where we were. On a grander scale, of course; far more people are involved; but in generalities, it’s almost déjà vu. All right, now with that as another rehearsal of the introduction, James chapter 1 and let’s jump in at verse 22. Now watch the language. Oh, what a difference here, then, from Paul’s Epistles of Grace.
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
All right, now let’s go all the way back to Exodus chapter 19, because I want you to see how this hooks up so perfectly with everything which is Jewish, and the Nation of Israel back here. Let’s just begin with verse 7:
“And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.” Now remember the scenario – Moses is up on the mountain, face-to-face with the Lord. In chapter 20, he’s going to get the Ten Commandments, but now the Lord has just been telling him how He’s going to deal with the Nation of Israel fresh out of slavery. Now verse 8. This is the verse I wanted you to see.
“And all the people (now remember this is the Nation of Israel) answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will (what’s the next word?) do.” Do you see that? What is it? Works! We’re not going to wait for salvation to be accomplished and take it as a free gift, we’ll work for it. Oh, “All that you’ve said, we’ll do.” See? And it’s repeated again in Deuteronomy. We won’t take time to look at that one, and so now back again to James. So watch this language now:
“For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24. For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.” Got the picture? And it’s sort of the same illustration that I give with regard to the Law. James is using the illustration that you come in from an afternoon of working in the yard and you’re sweaty and grimy and you look in the looking glass, or the mirror. You see everything that needs to be done to yourself, but you don’t do anything about it – you just go on out of the bathroom and you go out and do something else. Well, the mirror didn’t change a thing, did it?
Well, James says, this is the way it is if someone is supposed to be keeping the Law and doesn’t. It’s just like looking in a mirror and then not responding to it. Now I use the mirror concept this way. The Law, the Mosaic Law, the “thou shalt not’s” and “thou shalt’s” are like a mirror. And as we look into the mirror, the Law tells us everything that’s wrong with us. And that’s what confirms, then, when Paul says in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The Law shows that. But, just like James’ illustration of the mirror, so is my illustration of the mirror – you can look at the Law of Moses and study it until you’re blue in the face, but will it ever change you? NO! Because the Law has no redeeming power. All the Law could ever do was tell a person what’s wrong. That’s all.
And Paul makes that so plain in Romans chapter 3 – that the Law could do nothing but condemn the human race. All right, but now James isn’t using that concept. James is telling these Jewish believers that they are falling short at keeping the Law. And, my, what a difference, compared to what Paul says for us. All right, move on down, back to James 1 and verse 25.
“But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” Well that’s works, see? James is not saying a word about grace, but rather that keeping of the Law. Now we’re going to see it more and more as we come on through. Verse 26.
“If any man among you seem to be (what?) religious,…”
Now I think most of you and most of my audience from coast to coast and all over Oklahoma, know that I don’t have much time for religion. It’s not a good word. It’s never used in a good light except when James uses it here that as keepers of the Law, yes, they’re religious. Now Dwight just gave me a good definition – I get all kinds of help, you know! Dwight’s definition of religion is, “It’s all the different ways of going to hell.”
Well, you know, that’s about it, because most religion is doing exactly that. It’s just simply leading people the wrong direction. Something like this came up in one of the letters I received and, trying to keep their answer short (because I write in longhand), I wrote back to this individual – ‘Too many people are being pied-pipered.” I thought everybody that had been to grade school knew what that was. But the gentleman wrote back again and he said, “I don’t get what you’re driving at.” Well, I called him and I said, “Haven’t you ever heard the story? I think it took place in Europe if I’m not mistaken, where the Pied Piper played the pipes and what did he do? He led (I think it was rats, wasn’t it? Yeah.)…he led the rats all down into the river – just literally hypnotized them.”
That’s what most of religion is doing to people today. They’re ‘pied-pipering’ them. Oh, it sounds good. It appeals to the flesh. And they’re following them like a bunch of dumb rats. Sad, but so true. All right now, so James is using this legal approach – that if you’re going to look at that perfect law of liberty, let it have an affect on your life. But Paul teaches us that the Law has no power to change your life and so, here again, is where I can again, without apology, say James knows nothing of Paul’s teachings in this Age of Grace.And that’s why in my introductions I tried to make it clear that James is probably one of the first books written in our New Testament. Matthew might have beat him by a little bit but not much.
So James was evidently written before the Spirit even intends him to allude to anything that Paul teaches. You just can’t find it in here. I don’t care how hard you look. All right, but his writings are still Scripture, but just doesn’t apply to the Gentile Body of Christ as it’s all Jewish. Now, come back with me to II Timothy, chapter 3, and verse 16, because I don’t want people to get the idea, “Well Les, if it’s that far out, then why should we even look at it?” No, I’m not saying that. For this very reason, always remember this – that even though I may maintain that this isn’t written to us, that doesn’t mean it’s not profitable.
II Timothy 3:16a
“All scripture (from Genesis 1:1 to the last verse of Revelation) is given by inspiration of God and is profitable…” See, all scripture is profitable. So just because James isn’t addressed to us Gentiles under grace doesn’t mean you can’t profit from it. We’re going to pick out little tidbits here and there that are still apropos. Well, it’s the same way with the Four Gospels. The Four Gospels were Christ dealing with Israel, but yes, we can go into the Four Gospels and we can take some applications. We can feast on it. But it’s not going to have basic doctrines that Paul lays out and that’s where the difference comes in.
Now, while we’re on that inspiration of Scripture, I think I should take you on over to Peter’s little epistles. II Peter chapter 1 and here, of course, Peter agrees with the Apostle Paul one hundred percent. II Peter chapter 1. And in order to understand this series of verses, I have to come all the way back to verse 16. II Peter chapter 1, verse 16 where now the Apostle Peter writes.
II Peter 1:16a
“For we (speaking of himself and the Eleven) have not followed cunningly devised fables,…” Boy, does that sound familiar? See that’s what the scornful try to tell us, this is just a Book of fables and legends. But Peter says, no! “We haven’t followed cunningly devised fables,”
II Peter 1:16b
“…when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,…” What’s he talking about there again. The soon coming of Christ. Now watch for these. They were all looking for the Tribulation and the coming of Christ and the Kingdom within a matter of ten or twenty years – within their lifetime. I showed you that in the last taping. All right, now verse 17.
II Peter 1:17-18
“For (Peter says) he (Jesus the Christ) received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, (and now remember this is on the Mount of Transfiguration, back there in Matthew) This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.” That is the Mount of Transfiguration. Now verse 19 and, oh, I love this!
II Peter 1:19a
” We have also a more sure word of prophecy;…” (or truth)
How much more sure can you get than to see the Lord Jesus transfigured right in front of them? Shining brighter than the noonday sun! But Peter says, I’ve got something even better. Now this is something. Peter says, “We have a more sure” than even Christ’s transfiguration showing to those three – Peter, James and John – Who He really was.
II Peter 1:19b
“…whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, (that is the return of Christ!) and the day star arise in your hearts:” Now here it comes:
II Peter 1:20
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy (or speaking forth) of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” In other words, you can’t just take a verse and build a doctrine on it. You have to use the whole, from Genesis through Revelation. Now here’s the capstone.
II Peter 1:21
“For the prophecy (that is the Word of God) came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” The writers of Scripture, all of them, from Moses who wrote the beginnings of it on up through David. The writers of the historical books. The prophets. The writers of the Gospels. Luke writing Acts, Paul’s epistles and now these by Peter, James and John again. All of it, and never forget that. Every word in this Book was brought about through the inspiration or the moving of these men’s minds by the Holy Spirit.
Now I don’t think that the Spirit dictated audibly to them. But, the Spirit so took over their minds that as they wrote (or in Paul’s case, most of the time he dictated to a secretary of sorts), their minds just simply flowed with the Word of God. And that’s what we have to understand, now coming back to James, that all Scripture, even these little legalistic epistles, they’re still profitable and we can glean from them. Now then, down to verse 26 again. James 1 verse 26. And Iris, bless her heart, asked me on the way up if I was going to finish James today? I don’t think so. All right verse 26:
“If any man among you seem to be religious, (now of course, that’s what legalism was. Judaism was a religion) and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is (what?) vain.” So, what were most, even Jew’s, religions? Vain, because they were guilty of all these things. Now, come back with me to Galatians chapter 1, and we’ll get Paul’s use of the word “religion.” Back to Galatians chapter 1. Galatians chapter 1, my we have to hurry, time’s gone, and we’ll have to drop in at verse 13, where he’s rehearsing in these verses his Damascus road experience. And his past.
“For ye have heard of my conversation (manner of living) in times past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church (or assembly) of God, and wasted it:” So what was Paul? Religious! He had no qualms about murdering people, but he was religious.