The Epistle of James - Godly Values
Part 14 - Faith and Works, Part 1
3rd August 2018
When we first read this passage we might see it as a nice simple encouragement to give practical love and care to our brothers and sisters in Christ. It's not enough for us to speak loving words. Love is only real if we do stuff. As John says:
1 John 3v18
But there are some deep questions in the section of James's letter that begins with these words. Douglas Moo, in his excellent commentary, wrote, "This paragraph is the most theologically significant, as well as the most controversial, in the letter of James". The first difficult question is the one framed by James himself:
This question has been the subject of theological debate since the time of Luther, and I think the average honest evangelical might have to admit that he's not sure. Can a useless faith save us? James gives us an example:
What good is it? It's no good at all!
In a church like mine, there are no Christians with no clothes or food but, in some parts of the world, Christians often live in extreme poverty, and often go hungry. And we try to ensure that most of our church giving goes to other countries. Doing what we can to provide food, clothes, sanitation, education for their children, and other priorities, for suffering Christians is our duty, isn't it?
But imagine that a member of your church had no food, or no clothes, or at least no warm clothes, and suppose you or I knew about this, and when we met them or saw them in church , we just expressed the vague hope that they might find the food or clothes they need, or offered to pray for them, but we didn't take them to the supermarket and buy them something, what kind of Christians would we be? What kind of faith can we have if our hearts remain so cold?
James wouldn't have written this unless he knew of situations in the church in his own day, in which he knew things like this were actually happening. That's terrible, isn't it? If a person has the sort of faith that allows him to ignore the needy person sitting next to him in church, can that faith save him? How can we call ourselves Christians and do nothing to meet the desperate needs of other children of God? And we must remember that our needs are not just for food and clothes. Sometimes we need friendship, encouragement, company, advice or forgiveness.
Let James challenge you. If you know another Christian has pressing needs, and you do no more than talk about it, what kind of Christian are you? Do you have a real faith at all?
Let's nail this in our own hearts. James has already asked us if such a faith can save us. Now he says that such a faith is dead. Any plant that produces no leaf and no fruit is dead. Faith that produces no kindness, gentleness and godliness is dead. If faith doesn't change us, what's it purpose? It's of no use at all.
James explains these things in the next few verses, which we'll look at over the next few weeks.