James 2: 14 – 17
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
As the song says certain things go together love and marriage, horse and carriage plus many other pairings but Sammy Cahn couldn’t find scanning rhymes for them.
It seems to us perhaps so obvious that faith and actions go together, but many have disputed this concept. This was one of the reasons Luther condemned James’ Epistle to him and many of the other reformers salvation was by faith alone and the view was that James was suggesting that you could also gain salvation by works. It was suggested that James profoundly disagreed with Paul’s assertion that is only through faith that we are put right with God.That though is to misunderstand James’ point which was that works would automatically, or should, flow from faith. We have faith in a God of love and because of that we want to demonstrate that love by helping whoever we can.
James was addressing an audience familiar with many of the schools of Greek Philosophy among which would be the Stoics. To the Stoic the whole idea of helping out others was complete anathema. To them the object of life was personal serenity and to achieve that it was necessary to eradicate any emotion. If you showed empathy or felt pity for another’s plight then that would inevitably disturb your own detached philosophical calm, which should be the aim of all men. To be perfectly happy a man needs to show or indeed feel any emotions no pity, no grief, no sorrow. If anyone ever achieved that state it must have been a pretty bleak existence, IMHO.
In the Jewish tradition which James and his audience would be familiar with; of course alms giving was one of the primary requirements of their culture. So much so that whole lists of rules and regulations surrounded the practice.
James’ point was that the Greeks tried to divorce faith from practical help, the Jews on the other hand he thought tried to substitute faith with an action plan of almsgiving. So long as you helped the widow and orphan you would be OK.
James rails against both schools of thought. If you have faith enough to move mountains but have not love said Paul you are like a clanging symbol. James takes view that and runs with it, you must put that love into action and if you don’t, he agrees with Paul, your faith is useless, and all your songs of praise are empty words.
Jesus whole life on Earth was that of God showing his love in a practical physical way, if we want to claim we have a faith then we must also demonstrate that love in action.
Lord God our loving Father in Heaven, you showed your love, help us to share that love in the world today to all we meet. May they indeed know we are Christians by our love.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,