Last week’s parable dealt with the Orthodox Jews belief that good deeds would enhance ones standing as a righteous person. The more good deeds the more righteous a person was in God’s eyes. That righteousness was the result of good works. We learned that good works were not to be motivated by our desire to establish credit with God but rather the result of doing our duty as expected by God. This week we look at a different view and a different assessment. It is important for you to read James 2: 14-26 at this point.
Let’s start with these verses from James 1: 22-25:
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves[h] in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
Yes, our study today is in Chapter 2 but even before we get there James lays down his assessment of faith, deeds and works. It is important to remember that the word of God can never be just one or two verses from a chosen reading, in the study of scripture context is important. James early in his book insists that his readers be not only be hearers of the word but doers. James specifically writes that one true mark of the faith would be those who care for the needs of others and it is not far into the second chapter before he is writing this:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters,[e] if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (2James vv.14-17 NRSV)
Repetitive as this is, his words continue to bring home his dedication to his belief that faith without works is dead. He made the point in the very first chapter and got no farther in the second chapter than verse 14 before writing it again. His passionate insistence that faith must be translated into works is the overwhelming theme of this section of writing. Just knowing the right truth or the holding the right position does not make us righteous. Again and again verse 14 hits us in the face…To the Jew almsgiving was a big thing. So much so that it became one and the same. Righteousness and almsgiving were looked on by some as a way to atone for their sins. I found this in my research and include it here as a telling picture of the church’s view of the importance of works and faith.
“When the leaders of the Jerusalem church agreed that Paul should go to the Gentiles, the one specific instruction given to him was not to forget the poor (Galatians 2:10). This stress on practical help was one of the great and lovely marks of Jewish piety.” (DBS page 87)
All of us at times experience the need to help someone, I believe that there is a little good in all of us. Sympathy for others needs is a fine emotion and yes we all do have that emotion from time to time. James adds the blunt assessment that if we do not act on that it is highly likely that we will ever respond to any needs. When our emotions allow us to see a need and feel sympathy, we must be willing to make the sacrifice to meet that need. The study of the parable last week led me to linger a bit beyond the words. Luther regarded Paul as the true apostle and he was at odds with James and his position that faith without deeds was dead. Luther had an enormous amount of influence on the development of the NT scholarship, he more or less demoted James, a better term I guess would be he marginalized its standing in the Gospel. There has been much written about this matter but what I found interesting is the majority opinion is that this was a matter of interpretation and lays aside the idea that Paul and James were at odds as to faith and deeds. There are few if any Christian communities in this day that would be in disagreement with James as to faith and works. We learn with James it is not a situation of “either or” but one of both and more.
James makes it plain that we should greet and welcome those less fortunate than us into our assembly, give aid to those on the street that are perennially part of an impoverished population and remember the widows and orphans. Do we set aside that lesser person, removing them from our sight and mind, replacing them with those we relate to and placing them in a position of prominence? Have we sought to cover our neglect of the hungry and ill-clad with good wishes and pious language? Have we clung to our safe orthodoxy and comfortable rituals, not stepping out and answering God’s call to feed, cloth and care for the less fortunate among us? If we can say yes to any of these questions, then we cannot meet James’s standards, nor those of Christ. It is through our faith in Christ that we are enabled to do our duty. It is the strength of our faith that brings forth the deeds that serve and preserves the faith and wellbeing of others.
God Bless, Life is Good