“What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?…For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. ” James 2:14,26
Many look at these passages as an argument against Paul’s teaching on Justification by Faith but that is not the case at all. Paul states that the ritualistic laws of the Pharisees and the circumcision requirement demanded by the Judean Law had lost its meaning. No longer did it express an obedience to the law of God’s Love and his Blessing on the people but it had become a bondage and a burden on the people. It imprisoned the Jews by resriction and unabtainable regulations that bore no resemblance to Love or Faith in God’s Justice. Instead of being for correction and encouragement to honor God in the fullest, it causes a resentment of God. The “works” that Paul gives reference to are those that make it impossible to please God by strict application and shows no mercy, love or acceptance from God.
James on the other hand complains that faith had been reduced to philosophy and religious theory. Faith had been reduced to meaningless drible. Faith had become an excuse not to observe the will of God and people did not want to walk in the Way of the Truth by Christ’s example. James did not want faith to become a wasted event in one’s life but a catalyst to do as Jesus and as they, the first disciples of Jesus did. While we are no longer bound to the Jewish rituals and rites, we are still to follow the Law of Love that permiates the Old Testament.
While the uselessness of the law has been removed from us, we still must adhear to the character of Charity that Christ has commanded us. You must remember that James was the leader of the Judean Church, a close knit community that shared all things in common. He told the full body of believers, “Pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” to minister to the needs of the church, including such meanial tasks as waiting on tables. Stephen was one of these and his testimony led to him being stoned to death. The very word deacon means server or worker and if serving the needs of the community is not a work of Faith then why was it a part of the structure of the early churches throughout the empire? And the rich gave out of their plenty so that none would be in need.
For James to hear that the Jews outside of Judea who had become followers of The Way were now saying that because they have claimed Christ that they did not have to do anything else distrurbed him. For them to beleive that they had no obligation but to sit around and say that they were saved and that that was all that Christ required of them went against all that he knew to be true. These Jewish Christians “Helenized” their belief and turned Christianity into a philosophy rather that a Walk of Faith. Even Paul wrote against believing with lips only. In Galatians 5:13, Paul writes. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity of the flesh , but through love serve one another.” And in Galatians 6:10, ” So then as we have the opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Paul thanked the churches for coming to the aid of the Judean Church, for their generosity even when things were bleak for themselves. You can see how James would be on edge when these very same Christians who received aid from the Gentile Christians now felt that they did not have to help each other.
James was there when Jesus told how the people would be divided as sheep and goats, with those who served God on one side and those who did not serve God on the other (Matthew 25:31-36), he heard the lesson of the three men given talents and what would happen to the man who did not use his (Matthew 25:14-30). James knew the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). James was the one who listened to Paul and Peter and ruled that the Gentile Christians did not have to observe Jewish customs. He was there when Barnabus and the other men of wealth sold property so that the community would not be in need.
James knew Jesus Christ and knew that the message of faith action was vital to loving God. He heard all the lessons , saw all the miracles, and was there when the alms that were given to them were given to the poor. He was there in the Garden when Jesus prayed to the Father and said, “Thy will be done.” James also knew the the Law was not the means of Salvation, but the sacrifice, commandments and example given by Christ were the fulfilment of the Law. But he also knew that the purpose of God’s Love was contained in the Law. “Works” was not the “Law”, but Faith was shown by works of service. When Paul and Barnabus came to the counsel at Jeruselem to meet with James and the others on the question of the Gentiles and the Law, it was James who said, “We should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.” (read Acts 15)
Paul fought against the laws of cirumcision. James fought against the lawlessness of complicity. These are two different fights that both deal with living the Christian life. Jesus said if you love me, keep my commandments. He said the whole of the Law was contained in Loving God completely and loving your neighbor as yourself. James was seeing the unproductiveness in the people. He saw them as the unyielding fig trees that Jesus cursed. He knew the words of Jesus that the harvest was great but the workers were few. Not only were there still to few evangelists but there were to few stewarts and deacons within the chruches. He believed Jesus when Christ preached, “So you also when you have done all that you are commanded say, ‘We are unworthy servants, we have only done what was our duty.'” (Luke 17:10)
Paul, in Romans 9 asks who can resist God’s will? While blessings come apart from “works”, Paul never says that we are to resist working for the good of men. James is telling us to resist the temptation to have faith without fruit. James does not say that works replace faith or that you are saved, redeemed and santified by works. He is saying that faith without works is the same “faith” of the demons. They believed in Jesus but did not follow Christ. To be wholly and to be holy, your faith is enriched by your desire to follow Christ’s example and to always be aware of God’s will to love and keep one another safe.
Works begin with Faith. James does not say that faith is useless, he says faith not tempered with works is wasted faith. He does not say that works will save you but that if you use faith as an excuse not to do works of service for one another, your faith has no value, it is as the dead fig tree. As God is our “Potter”, he does not make a vessel to remain empty but to be used. As you sing the song “Mold me, Meld me, Use me,” do not say empty words. As God creates in you a new creation, serve God in a mighty way by using the gifts God gave you so that others will find encouragement, strength and Christ’s Love in your actions.
In Galatians 5:6 Paul states. “…What is important is faith expressing itself in love.” Is it love to let a child starve? Is it love to dress yourselves in finery when so many are naked in the cold? Is it love to have a closet full of coats while a homeless man has not even a box to live in nor a single coat? Is it love to leave the widow and the orphan helpless and say I have done all that I have to do because I have Faith. Is it Love to say, “Go in peace and be warm and filled without giving them the things they need.”? (James 2:16)
It is good to pray for others, to wish them well but unless we take action to see to the needs of others personally, our faith has no roots and is quickly devored by the ravens of complicity and the wild creatures of Satan. To share the Word by our action there can be no fault. If we Love God by our faithfulness and honor Him with our action, no man can find fault in our Love or our God. In this Paul, John, Peter and James are in agreement. Show me your faithfulness to Christ by loving, sharing and entering into meaningful worship with others with Christ like and Spirit led works.
In Eph. 4:28-29. Paul tells us to use our hands for honest work, let everything be good and helpful. Eph. 4:30 begins with. “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live.” This is why James says, ” What good does it do to say you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions?” (James 2:14), and, “We are made right with God by what we do not by faith alone.” (James 2:24)
The key is: NOT by Faith ALONE, but we as believers are to complete our faith as one who goes to college to educate themselves for a future or goes to a trade school to learn a skill. What good is it to do these things and not use the talents you have learned? We are all in the business of Christ, We are to use the skills He has taught us, we are to continue in His path and work the fields that are ready for the harvest. We are to serve all as He served us. We are to build up and not tear down, to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and care for the widows and orphans just as the disciples did when they walked with Jesus and as they did for the early members in Jeruselem and Mesopotamia, Macedonia and Rome. We are to become tradesmen for Christ in all that we do and everyway we can. Deut. 6:5,18 contains these words to live by; “You must love God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. …. Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so all will go well with you.” This has not changed over the centuries. Do what is right and do it often. Stay away from the concept that you can do nothing. Grow in your Faith by faithfulness to the working of the Spirit of God and how willingness to serve man as Christ served us. While I may do works outside of Faith, I can not do Godly Work without faith. Faith leads me to work for the Lord. By the Spirit of God, my works show my faith.
Against these thing no man can fault my God.