Summary: James clearly shows us that there is direct connection between our faith and our service
Faith in Action
October 22, 2006
A missionary returning home after many years of service was asked, "Tell me what you found when you arrived in New Guinea."
"Found? I found something that looked more hopeless than if I had been sent into a jungle of tigers."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, the people seemed utterly devoid of moral sense. If a mother was carrying her little baby and the baby began to cry, she would throw it into the ditch and let it die. If a man saw his father break his leg, he would leave him by the roadside to suffer by himself. They had no compassion whatever. They didn’t even know what the word meant."
"Well, what did you do for them?"
"I thought it best to show them my faith by my works! When I saw a baby crying, I picked it up and consoled it. When I saw a man with a broken leg, I sought to mend it. When I found people distressed and hungry, I took them in, comforted them, and fed them. Finally they inquired, ’What does this mean? Why are you doing this for us?’ Then I had my chance, and I preached the gospel!"
"Did you succeed?"
"My friend," said the missionary, "when I returned home on furlough, I left a church!"
Faith needs to make such an impact on the life of a believer that they are changed. The fact that a person cannot remain the same after they find Jesus is just a fact. The genuine nature of faith is proven through the changed lifestyle and changed actions of the believer.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. 20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
I. The conduct of faith (15-17)
James makes a bold comparison here that we simply cannot ignore. Faith without works is like having compassion without the acts of compassion. Dead faith is revealed by false compassion. It is having a verbal concern without the actions to resolve the concern.
James puts the scripture into the light of practical application. He directs his attention to the issue of physical needs. James speaks of a brother or sister who was in rags and starving. James makes it abundantly clear that he is not speaking about someone who was outside of the church but these people are brothers and sisters. They are fellow believers who were in need. The issues that James tackles here is twofold: the need for clothing and the need for food. It was a very real problem then and remains a problem today.
The need for clothing is described by the Greek word nudus, which is where we get our English word nude. It did not necessarily mean a total lack of clothing but rather likely it meant a lack of proper clothing. It means to be without sufficient clothing and to be miserable as a result.
The issue of food did not mean that the people were getting nothing to eat but that the food they had were not meeting their physical needs. James also uses an unusual word for daily – this is the only place that it appears in the entire New Testament. The emphasis was placed on the need for food. James is literally describing an ongoing problem for these people. This was not a one time situation but an ongoing situation.