Summary: It’s not ’faith versus works’, it’s faith and works’
14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
The name, Edmund Burke may or may not be a familiar one to most of us here. Burke was an eighteenth century British philosopher-turned writer, whose works centered on philosophy and the politics of his day.
It is probably more likely that some of us might be more familiar with a statement he made. “All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
He had a valid point and I’m sure it was well taken by many in the context of his times and has been since. But when we take this philosophical assertion and examine it in light of the message of James relating to faith and works, it seems to me that we would be brought to realize and pressed to admit that in desperate and needy times the man who does nothing cannot be legitimately defined as ‘good’.
Although our text verses begin at 14 today, let’s not allow James’ theme to be forgotten. He has just decried the favoritism and show of personal preference that glad-hands the wealthy and influential yet despises the lowly. So as we progress let’s remind ourselves that James is addressing the church. Us.
And we can hardly forget, can we, when he continues on and says, ‘brethren’, and challenges the brethren with “What use is it, … if someone says he has faith but he has no works?”
In this context, realizing that he was addressing believers in Christ and therefore believers in Christ in every age and therefore addressing us, it behooves us to note that he is not asking this question of people afraid to fight, or unable to step up to some daunting challenge.
He’s pointing to the poor wretch over there in the corner who needs simply the most basic of human provision, and saying, ‘where is your great faith, when this one goes unhelped and uncared-for?’
You yourself are barely worthy to attend the assembly! You don’t even rate a seat up front! You’re back here in the back row with your little footstool, turning your nose up at the brother of lesser status and lesser means, maybe a little dirty, maybe a little smelly, maybe with a past that you see as more than a little bit sullied, and you make him sit in the dirt and won’t lift a finger to help him up even to your own lowly level, and you speak of faith?
Where’s your faith? Faith in what? Faith in whom? In Christ? In Jesus who burned Himself out from sunup to sundown, feeding and giving water and touching and blessing and giving hope?
In how many church buildings across our great land, American believers, are there people devoid of the clothing of Christ’s righteousness, starving for the bread of Life, going without the water that springs up to eternal life, because there is no profit in all that for the leadership, nor the exercise of working faith among the members?
In the stories of literature, many of which make it to the stage and screen, we’re often given the picture of the lone hero, alone primarily because no one will stand with him. I think of titles such as “High Noon”, “Norma Rae”, “Walking Tall” and so on… when we think of stories like these or sit watching them or reading them in a book, we might hate the bad guys; might even feel a little fear in empathy for the hero, because of the ruthlessness and ferocious behavior of the evil enemy. But we only feel loathing and disgust for the so-called ‘good’ people who, knowing what needs to be done, hide and watch because they are not willing to pay the price of doing good.