“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.” (James 2:14-17 ESV)
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 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? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:14-17 KJV)
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it? So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself.” (James 2:14-17 NET)
Faith without works is dead. Mormons like to cite this phrase, but I had not noticed until last year while reading during Sunday School that the example of works given by James….is work that addresses the needs of the poor. It is not baptism or any other ordinance that justifies our faith. Instead, it is the work we do to improve the conditions of the poor.
In the second chapter of James, this is actually the second mention of how we treat the poor as members of the Church and as a Church.
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4 ESV)
“My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4 KJV)
“My brothers and sisters, do not show prejudice if you possess faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if someone comes into your assembly wearing a gold ring and fine clothing, and a poor person enters in filthy clothes, do you pay attention to the one who is finely dressed and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and to the poor person, “You stand over there,” or “Sit on the floor”? If so, have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives?” (James 2:1-4 NET)
There are some who might say that today we mistreat the rich. While we should not judge rich individuals, the evil judgements we make against the poor have a much more severe impact on the lives and life prospects of the disadvantaged.
As I have read the Bible more closely over the last two years, I have been impressed and blessed by the extent to which the Gospel message found in the Bible applies to us today. I regret that I have so long neglected it.
Such passages also lead me to wonder about the value of Seminary Scripture Mastery. While Scripture Mastery encourages the memorization of interesting verses, something not problematic in itself, does it also encourage proof texting? In other words, does the focus on specific verses and sets of verses undermine our understanding of the larger context of these verses? In the process, do we end up misunderstanding the very verses that we are focusing on?