I’ve been thinking about our role as the body of Christ, particularly in how we relate to other people. In the past two weeks here, I’ve written about and studied the fact that we need to be acting as Christ’s hands and feet in reaching out with compassion, healing, and love. I also wrote about Jesus wanting us to love indiscriminately.
In settling on a new topic for this past week of study, I turned to the last place I’d left my ribbon bookmark. It was James 2, for the verse I quoted last week about respect of persons based on their wealth being a sin. Right after that is the famous “faith without works” passage. That started me wondering, What specific kinds of works are we supposed to be doing as members of the body of Christ?
Faith Without Works
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
We know from Romans 3:20 that “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified,” but these verses in James also show that we cannot claim to have true faith unless it is accompanied by some kind of works. It kind of reminds me of 1 Corinthians 13, where even the best gifts are useless without love.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. … Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:18, 21-26)
As shown by these examples, the actions we take demonstrate to God whether or not our faith is genuine. Both Abraham and Rahab showed by their works that they believed in God enough to actually follow His orders.
Care For Others
Abraham and Rahab are positive examples of faith supported by works. The discussion opens, however, with a negative example of someone who sees “a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food” but does “not give them the things which are needed for the body.” Apparently, it is a sin to not help someone when it is in our power to do so.
It’s a simple idea. If you have two coats, give one to someone without a coat. If you have food, share it with someone who is going hungry (Luke 3:11). The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches that “love your neighbor” includes anyone in our sphere of awareness who needs aid. Simple, but so easy to ignore. Someone else will do it … How do I know they’re really homeless? it could be a scam … That’s what welfare’s for — I pay my taxes.
I’m as guilty of using these excuses as the next person, and they might even be true in some cases. But I suspect God would rather have us error on the side of giving too freely than withholding help from someone who actually needs it.
“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.” – C.S. Lewis
In the first chapter of James, we are given the following definition of religion that pleases God:
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)
Did you know there are 100,000 legal orphans in the United States and 300,000 Christian churches? That’s 3 churches that profess to follow Christ per child who is waiting for adoption (from iCareAboutOrphans.org). I started crying the first time I read this statistic.
God is in the business of setting “the solitary in families” (Ps. 68:6). Jesus promised, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). If He’s doing that on a spiritual level, doesn’t it make sense that He would approve of efforts to do something similar on a physical level? Not everyone is in a position where they can adopt — I’m not right now — but we can help by sharing awareness of this need, doing what we can to help families who are able to give children homes, and supporting ministries like Focus on the Family’s Orphan Care Initiative.
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Is. 1:16-17)
Learning to do good involves speaking out on behalf of people — both old and young — and defending those who don’t have families to protect and care for them. Even if we feel like we can’t “do” anything, we should be praying and speaking up when necessary.
The really cool thing is, when we stop focusing on ourselves and focus on helping other people, it benefits us as well.
Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ “If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. (Is. 58: 6-10)
God is glorified, and pleased, when we “bear much fruit” by abiding in Jesus Christ and keeping His commandments (John 15:4, 8, 10). The commands involve an active interest in helping other people with the same attitude we would have if serving Jesus Christ directly.
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ … ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matt. 25:34-36, 40)
The reverse of this is also true — if we ignore people in need, we are ignoring Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:41-46). Godly love, agape, is not passive. It acts for the good of others, even as Christ did when He died for our sins.
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:13-14)