It has been thought and taught by some that St. Paul and St. James have differing views on the Gospel and, in particular, the relationship between faith and works. This is incorrect. They each are inspired writers, writing truth. Their inspiration does not guarantee that we understand them. Inspiration just means that we can trust them.
As we come to trust by practice the kind of life that St. Paul and St. James describe, we come to understand that they are talking about two aspects of one life: faith and works. The source of that one life is God and faith is how that life is received. Faith is the intake for life. Works are the shape of that life of faith. Works are the outflow. Works are what living faith looks like.
The community in which that life—life from God the Father through Jesus Christ in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit—is received and formed is the Church. The Church—remember, Church is people—is the community of the faithful who are receiving and living life from God.
The Church is both the recipient and primary subject of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The Church is also the recipient and primary of subject the letter of James. In addition, the Church is the primary subject of St. Luke’s history, part two of his Gospel, titled The Acts of the Apostles.
Teaching a study on Acts, I realized that a brief overview of Acts may serve well as a connection between the letter to the Ephesians and the letter of James. The reason why is that they all three share the same subject, the Church. And in three simple verses St. Luke, in his literary genius, communicates the purpose, plan, parts, and path of the Church. These are also the purpose, plan, parts, and path of the Acts of the Apostles and the acts of the disciples who follow the Apostles. Because Church is people, Jesus’ apostles and Jesus’ disciples compose Jesus’ Church. Jesus’ Church is a united body under one head, Jesus, with a common purpose, plan, parts, and path.
The purpose of Acts and the purpose of the Church are found in the first phrase of the book of Acts, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” The “first book” is the Gospel of Luke in which Luke writes about what Jesus began. Acts is the second book in which Luke writes about what Jesus continues to do and teach. Jesus continues his doing and teaching by ascending to his Father’s right hand (i.e the control room of the universe) and then sending the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, through whom others receive the Spirit.
The plan of Jesus’ continued work is shared in the second half of Acts 1:8. Jesus tells his disciple that they will be his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” Jerusalem the epicenter of a global expansion of a worldwide project of bearing witness to Jesus, his incarnation, his passion, and his exaltation. This plan requires two parts.
The parts of Jesus’ work are given in the first half of Acts 1:8. “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” The parts are the Holy Spirit and people. These are two principal parts of the body of which Jesus is the head. People are the parts of the body and the Holy Spirit is the animating life sent by Jesus, “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love” (Eph. 4:16).
The path of the Church, her Apostles and disciples, is humble participation in Jesus by obedient imitation of Jesus. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:27). Or, as James succinctly writes, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you” (Jas. 4:10).
The Church is people and the people who are Church share a life. This life is received by faith, faith is seen in works. Faithful works of love glorify God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit whose masterpiece, the Church, has a purpose, plan, parts, and path expertly communicated by our inspired leaders and writers St. Paul, St. James, and St. Luke.