his faith was made complete

What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions. (James 2:21-22 CEB)

I’ve been thinking a bit about death of late. Specifically, about the power our life has on others and how we struggle to sum up and express that power with words. Several creeks feed this river in my mind right now.

The mother of a friend of mine from my teenage years died not that long ago. Looking back now I can see she was a woman who influenced me more than she would have ever imagined in her wildest dreams. It bothers me a bit that I didn’t fully realize that until it was too late to tell her myself. Words unspoken speak to me now and so I pray for my Father’s forgiveness in this.

The last of my parents’ siblings died a couple of weeks ago. Aunt Vera was a Christian in whom it was easy to see the fruit of God’s Spirit. However, her departure leaves my Dad, her “baby brother,” as the sole survivor of his generation and the words he shares with me in conversation now tell me he is feeling the weight of that these days. Heavenly Father, grant me the service of loving listening and few, but wise words.

I have a dear friend who is slowly dying of a rather rare, incurable disease. His daily experience of slow deterioration in mind and body isn’t made any easier by the fact that some of his closest kin remain entrenched in total denial about his situation. Their inability to deal with the reality of death themselves greatly complicates my friend’s difficult journey. It would only take a few words to make his journey much easier, but will those words ever come? Prayerful words again arise from my heart: Lord, open their eyes and break their misguided hardness.

Just yesterday I attended a memorial service for a person who was a stranger to me. The words spoken were carefully crafted ahead of time, written with reflection and care, not left simply to the spur of the moment. It was good to overhear these good words of love from family and friends spoken on the deceased’s behalf for the benefit of all. Not every family has such blessings. Thank you, Father in heaven, for every good thing you work through everyone.

And now as I read this passage in James, I encounter a father, a son, and a near death experience, all orchestrated by the living God who spoke his will to them. The Spirit of this same God, working through his servant James centuries later, summed this father’s relationship with the Father, in just a very few words. And as I consider these words, turning them over and over again in my mind, the thought comes to me that I want to live such a life here and now so that when my children and grandchildren someday view my lifeless body, these words of James will readily come to their mind and will ring true, not hollow:

“… his faith was made complete by his actions.”

Holy Father in heaven, help me to live so now that your name is honored and respected in all of my ways. May this be so clear and obvious to all that in the death of my death, what others will remember is not so much me, but you, and that you are the one to be trusted and lived after, always and in every way. Amen.

Consider our father, Abraham, won’t you? His ways revealed he was right in his relationship with God as he offered Isaac – his own son! – on the altar. Visualize his faith working itself out through his ways. Truly his trust was tendered by what he did. (James 2:21-22 DSV)

journey through James (13): twenty questions on James 2:14-26

This coming Sunday morning at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 2:14-26. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: replacing the emptiness of foolishness with the fullness of faithfulness. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty questions with which to wrestle.

My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.

Someone might claim, “You have faith and I have action.” But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action. It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear. Are you so slow? Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all? What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions. So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous. What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend. So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone. In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute shown to be righteous when she received the messengers as her guests and then sent them on by another road? As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead. (James 2:14-26 CEB)

1. What statement in this passage is most striking to you? Why?

2. Make a list of what this passage specifically says faith without faithful activity is good for or like.

3. “Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat.” (vs.15) What does this passage have to say about the common teaching today known as the “health and wealth gospel” (i.e. prosperity gospel, name-it-and-claim-it gospel, etc.)?

4. Who is responsible for meeting the physical needs of the Christian poor?

5. What other passages in James come to mind when you read the illustration of benevolence? (vs.15-16)

6. “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!” (vs. 16) What are some modern, roughly equivalent statements you use when you say something to, but do nothing for, someone you see in need?

7. “Faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity” (vs. 17), but is faith necessarily alive when there is activity? Suppose a very active Christian friend confides in you that while they’re doing many good things in Christ’s name, their faith in Christ has faded and at times even appears to be nonexistent. They’re deeply troubled by this. In light of this passage in James, what can you say to them?

8. How are you guilty of sometimes hoping for or expecting faith to be seen without your actions (vs.18)?

9. To what does James have reference and what does he mean by the phrase “God is one?” (vs.19a)

10. Should we, as Christians, “tremble” as the demons do (vs.19b)? Why or why not? As you answer, consider the fact that this is the occurrence in the NT of the Greek word translated here as “tremble”.

11. Aside from James’ statement here that “the demons believe …” (vs.19), what other NT texts would lead you to believe such?

12. “… faith without actions has no value at all.” (vs. 20b) Honestly, is there a part of you that disagrees with this statement? Why or why not?

13. Are you “righteous?” Are you “God’s friend?” (vs.23) Interact at heart level with these statements.

14. Recount as much as you can of the story of Abraham offering Isaac on the altar. Having done so, compare your recollection with the Biblical account in Genesis 22. What parts did you leave out, forget, or get wrong?

15. As you did with the preceding question, do the same with the account of Rahab receiving the spies (Joshua 2).

16. Compare and contrast Abraham (vs.21-24) and Rahab (vs.25).

17. Many Biblical personalities expressed obvious faith again and again. And so, of all the personalities James could have drawn from, and of all the incidents in their lives, why do you suppose he selected Abraham and Rahab to drive home his point that faith without works is dead? What personalities would you have selected and what incidents in their lives?

18. Some say what James says here about faith contradicts what Paul says about faith in Romans and Galatians. What is your impression?

19. Responding from this passage, how would you respond to someone who read this passage and said, “So then, if a person does what’s good, God owes them salvation?”

20. “What good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it?” (vs.14) In what areas of your life do you keenly sense you need to do a better job of showing your faith? How can we pray for you in these areas?