For most people, the two words ‘freedom’ and ‘obedience’ simply are not compatible. To be ‘free’ is to be unbound by submission to another authority, to be ‘obedient’ is to relinquish one’s freedom and submit to authority. Logically, they are incompatible ideals but James, and throughout the Bible, brings these two, seemingly opposite, ideas together as a part of the Christian life. Where most of us would immediately associate faith with obedience, James brings into the picture ‘freedom’ found what some might consider a rigid framework.
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.
Continuing to build on his illustration of looking into a mirror, James points to another point of reflection and contemplation. The perfect law. As mentioned earlier, the mention of law immediately bring to mind boundaries, restrictions and obedience. It is not something that is associated with ‘freedom’ – yet, James does just that. Just as the civil law of a country requires of its citizens obedience, the bulk of those laws are to benefit the citizens seeking to protect and to govern them wisely and justly. How much more so with the perfect law of God? It is within the bounds of this “perfect law” that we are to find ultimate freedom, as it seeks to protect us and govern our lives with wisdom and righteousness – all, for our benefit.
Now, the “perfect law” of God is not the law of the Old Testament that some may be tempted to claim. While the principles and basis of that law was from God, it was incomplete without finding its fulfilment in the person of Jesus Christ. The entire OT law structure and system had one purpose in mind, to prepare the people of God – the Jews – for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. We find the “perfect law” through the teaching and life of Jesus Christ. Indeed, there are aspects of the OT law which Jesus took on board, but always interpreted within the light of His coming fulfilling its true intentions.
Thus, it is the person who reflects and considers the perfect teachings of Jesus Christ – revealed through the Gospel accounts and the teachings of the Apostles – who finds freedom in life. However, reflect once again on James’ earlier words, “Do not merely listen to the word […] Do what it says.” The person who acts upon the words and teachings of Jesus Christ will be blessed. Another misconception that on must avoid is that blessing equals prosperity, because it doesn’t. Indeed, the OT perspective was that someone who was prosperous was blessed, but that’s not always the case and I’m sure you can think of modern-day examples. Rather, to be blessed meant to be given joy. So, if you rephrase James’ words, “He will be given joy in what he does.” To be content, to be satisfied, to recognise that God is always with you – such is the gift of joy.
It seems that it is a recurring lesson, but it is ever so crucial: let us be people of the Word, not just people who sit in church on Sundays nor people who know how to give a shout to God nor people who just do “good deeds” nor people who can pray long and righteous prayers nor people who can recount portions of Scripture. Let us be people who act upon the Word that has been passed down to us. Let us stand, let us get out of seats, out of churches and into the world to do what we were called to do – to be “salt and light” to the world around us.