"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?"
For years as I was growing up I passed the small chest of drawers in our livingroom. Above it there was a curio cabinet hung on the wall. I never really thought about those two pieces until one day when I was about 20 I sat down on the couch and looked up. There they were. The same two pieces, yet totally different for the moment, revealed in the light of whatever thought I was having as something different -- though not finer -- than they ever had been before.
The juxtaposition of faith and works in James 2:14 is just like that cabinet and chest. I've grown up as a believer casually walking past these words and not giving them much thought beyond what I knew them to be. Faith without works is dead. Standard and understood as part of evangelical thought.
But wait! What is the context of these words? James hasn't been talking about doing good deeds. He hasn't been urging us on to philanthropy or service projects or missions. He's been talking about the most pedestrian thing in the world and yet one of the highest callings of the believer or the lowest sin: favoritism and judgment. If I favor one believer because he is well-dressed, I'm in sin. And if I judge a brother and don't feed him or clothe him or offer him the gospel for his soul I'm in sin. What are the profound works of faith that are necessary for faith to live at all? It isn't your missions trip (or missionary life, for that matter). It isn't your giving away millions of dollars (I Corinthians 13). It isn't the church you built (meaning a building project) or the size of your congregation (if you're a pastor). What is this work that makes faith alive? The little things of daily life.
My faith is most fully alive when I listen to my children and when I take time with the waitress at the coffee shop or the kid who is checking out my groceries whom it has always seemed to me is trying very hard to look and sound gay and "alternative". Do I engage with him as much as with the sweet woman who is the mother of one of my daughter's friends from high school? If I have the chance do I go to her check-out line or his?
As Peter says, "God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble." God, give me humility to so I don't even have to THINK about the choice. The word "unselfconscious" comes to mind, God. Oh God... help me not to think about the choice but simply to do what you would have me do.
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.