Posted by: mikebackup | September 8, 2009

Looks aren’t everything.

James 2:1-10, 14-17

Favoritism Forbidden
1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

Faith and Deeds
14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

These are verses that have such application today. Judging a book by its cover is such a reality. We are now trained to look at the surface and expect glossy perfection. The media is saturated by it and a good way to see this in action is to walk along the magazine stand at a big supermarket. When something does not live up to this glossy perfection a judgement is made and it is easy to make a bad and negative judgement. So many people hate who they are because of what they look like. It encourages so many terrible conditions like anorexia, bulimia and depression. So many young people in particular have taken their own lives because they could not cope with the imperfections they saw in their bodies. So many people feel the need to have plastic surgery to try and keep the cover of their book looking glossy. God wants us to look after our bodies, keep fit and healthy and be happy with who we are. But God does not want us keeping up appearances in an effort to conform to societies focus on the shallow and superficial.

Societies emphasis on surface perfection is wrong and Christians have got to work hard to change this. That thought helps us to look deeper at these verses. What these verses together reflect on is that faith is not just about saying we are committed to Christ. We only show our commitment by what we work hard to do in life in the name of Christ. The commitment and the doing are the two essential elements of faith. Without one of these you do not have true faith in Christ.

Christians have often focused on saying that belief is enough. However it is only by living out that belief that faith is alive and has meaning. Christians have misunderstood the concept that nothing we do can gain us salvation. In isolation that is true. It doesn’t matter what we physically achieve in life, that alone will not bring salvation. We need that commitment and faith in Christ as well. So living out our commitment to Christ not only brings salvation it keeps faith burning within us.

This is looked at in the very next verse from James.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

When we stop doing for Christ our faith dies down, it is the fuel that feeds the fire. On the internet there are many places where people talk about why they have lost their faith. It’s difficult reading and people list challenging reasons why they no longer believe in God. What you notice though is that the reasons are all knowledge based. Because some difficult questions can only be reflected on and not answered with any degree of certainty then they are seen as nails in the coffin of faith. Faith is not easy, it does not provide certainty or answers to difficult questions that can be asked of the Bible and faith. But we don’t find God in self reflection or by posing questions that are impossible to answer. We find God in faith, hope, love, trust, perseverance and experience. Those qualities are only made real if we are living out our commitment to Christ. Mother Theresa had so many doubts and dark nights of the soul, but her faith was kept alive by the work she did.

These verses from James also have resonance with the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.34-46.

34″Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37″Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40″The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

41″Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44″They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45″He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46″Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

This parable at first glance seems to be saying that salvation is gained by works alone, but this is not the case. This is about those who believe (the righteous, v37) living out their faith. Verses 42-44 link very well to the verses in James. Faith in Christ is only shown in what we do for others. So if we are judgemental or show prejudice or simply do nothing ‘for the least of these’ then we are guilty of not showing what God stands for or calls us to do. We cut ourselves off from God and our faith dies.

This living out of our faith is needed not just as individuals but also within the body of Christ that is the church. In isolation it can sometimes be hard to show that the reason individuals are doing good works is because of belief in Christ. After all there are many people doing good works, how do you tell the difference? One way is by knowing that a person belongs to a community of believers and that community is committed to doing good works in the name of Christ. Again if a church is not living out its belief it will not only become isolated from God, but isolated from the community it is called to serve. The reality then speaks for itself, churches are closing their doors for the last time every week.

So true faith is all about living out our belief in Christ in what do for others. We have to believe to have faith, but can only show we believe by what we do. Separate them and we have no faith. It is a challenge to every Christian to look at every part of their lives and ask is this showing I believe in Christ. In every decision we take in life there is a God’s way. By taking God’s way, our faith burns bright and we become a beacon of hope and light to others.

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