What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
Comment: I usually restrict myself very largely to what the passage says, refusing to preach a mini-sermon. But here I think it necessary to go a bit beyond the passage for it to make sense. Many years ago I was asked by a group of young Chinese University students to explain how I balanced the doctrines of Paul and James. I started by saying ‘If you are serious we must also talk about epistles of John as well.’ I don’t think that they are about comparisons, but completeness. Our relationship to God is not summed up in one word! if you read their epistles you will probably discern that…
- Paul majors on ‘faith’.
- John majors on ‘love’.
- James majors on works.
NB ‘Majors on’ does not mean ‘exclusively’. Are these not all extremely important aspects of the Christian walk? So James seems on first look to be a bit discouraging of ‘faith’. He begins with an example where words without love is clearly demonstrated. The example indicates that work was really necessary at this point. The person needed help! Then he uses an argument between two opinions as examples. Chose he say ‘faith without works’ v ‘show the reality of faith by works’. Clearly he favours the second alternative. And lastly he shows the subtleties of the word faith. The devils believe in God (in one sense) much more than any of us – but their knowledge only causes them to shudder. Presumably because they know what the future is to bring for them!
Prayer: May my understanding lead to real faith, O God. Please let my belief affect my heart into simple trust and action!