James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
There has been a problem facing Christianity that is not new to our time. James addressed this problem here in these verses. In the book of Galatians, Paul was directed by God to address the Judaizers who demanded that works were necessary to be saved. Actually, the apostles addressed this issue in Acts 15. The Judaizers were in bed with the Pharisees. They had a false god and their god demanded works as the means of “salvation”. On the other side of this issue are those who insist that faith is all that is needed and that any suggestion that there should be works that follow true faith, is heresy.
Paul was directed to address this matter very clearly in Ephesians 2.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Verses 8&9 tell us that salvation is a work of God. It is by grace and through faith. There is nothing that any man can do to in any way enhance God’s gift of salvation. Verse 10 of that chapter tells us that after we are saved, we are created in Christ Jesus to good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
James was directed by God to address this matter as well. God knows that the devil likes to mess up what God says. God also knows that lost people are easily convinced by the devil to follow something other than the truth. Lost people cannot blame the devil. We are all born with a sin nature and that nature gravitates to the influence of the devil.
Thus in James 2:14, we have the question: What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? We notice again here that James is addressing the brethren. He is not talking to the lost world. He is directed by God to remind the saints that they need to follow God’s law of liberty, rather than be influenced by false teachers.
To answer the question posed here, James gave the example of the saved person that is naked and destitute of daily food. In the first century there were Christians that were quite poor. This situation is not limited to the first century. There are Christians in our time that are quite poor as well. We must keep in mind that this is not a call to put up soup kitchens to feed the lost. This is about true saints looking after the needs of true saints. True saints should not need to run to the government for assistance. That has happened too often and the ungodly governments have developed fat egos and they think that they are gods. They want us dependent upon them and they want to put their restrictions on us if we want assistance. What is forgotten here is that the government does not generate wealth. The government tends to be a boat anchor that abuses wealth. Governments have their place but their place is not to be the “father” or “mother” of society.
In the book of Acts we see how the early Christians looked after each other’s needs early on in the book. The ungodly of that time could see that the Christians had something good going on. True faith in God changed them in all areas. Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ made the difference. People perked up their ears to listen to the apostles and souls were saved as they were exposed to the truth. They saw salvation in action and some were quite impressed, so much so that they were saved. There were others who despised the Christians because they wanted to control the “underlings” and they tried to stop the Christians. They found out there was no way to stop the Christians because true Christians belong to God. He enables them and He directs them and He gives them a boldness that is unstoppable.
Even though Christians were being put to death, that did not stop others from getting saved and also being bold in Christ.
In verse 16 we see the absurdity of telling the destitute saint to go in peace and be warm and filled, without giving them the things needed to make them warm and filled. God is capable of directing ravens to feed people. Jesus was capable of taking a few loaves and fishes and feeding five thousand men, beside women and children with that. There were twelve baskets full of food left over from that. God is able to take a little that we have and make it much for His glory. He expects His children to understand that all they have, belongs to God. I would rather have God own all that I have, than see the corrupt government get its hands of what I have. They have proven over and over again to be oppressive. God is not that way. Those who honour Him and give Him His rightful place in their lives are looked after by Him.
When true saints get in the flesh and do not listen to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit Who indwells them, they need to be reminded of the importance of being willing to help the poor brother or sister out.
In verse 17, James took that illustration to point out that faith without works is dead. Biblical faith means something. Biblical faith can be measured. Biblical faith can be observed. Let the world stand at their soup kitchens or wait for their welfare checks. Christians are different. If there is a need, it should be met within the context of local churches. As we noted earlier, Paul gathered a collection from other churches to take to the saints at Jerusalem. They had a need and others had been blessed with enough to be able to share with the saints at Jerusalem. That was a powerful message at that time.
It is true Biblical faith, that will motivate the true saint to look out for other saints. They will not need to be begged to help out. They will be led by God to help out as needed. There may be a letter of request sent out but that should be enough to spur Christians to give to a just cause.
Accountability is always important. The early churches wrote letters to other churches. The apostles also travelled from place to place and they could see what was going on. There are evangelists who travel around and they can assist with this important need among true saints. In all of this there needs to be discernment to make sure that the needs are genuine and that the help that is offered is used properly.
True saints are not offended to report to other Christians who have helped them. As they report, this is cause for rejoicing among the saints as they learn how their “little” is used in a big way to bless some saints in need.
There was a need in the first century to understand what true faith looks like. There is a need for that in our day as well. It is a powerful message when others can see God’s people able to function in such a way that His Word is proclaimed freely and boldly. The world needs to see the difference that God makes in a saved person’s life. They need to see that God is much greater than the government. God’s way is liberating. The world’s way is bondage.