09-09-18 – “Faith that Works: Body & Soul”

09/09/18

“Faith That Works: Body & Soul”

Rev. Kevin Hay

 

James 2:1-17

2:1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism 

really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?

2:2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes 

comes into your assembly, 

and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in,

2:3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, 

“Have a seat here, please,” 

while to the one who is poor you say, 

“Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”

2:4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, 

and become judges with evil thoughts?

2:5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. 

Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith 

and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?

2:6 But you have dishonored the poor. 

Is it not the rich who oppress you? 

Is it not they who drag you into court?

2:7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name 

that was invoked over you?

2:8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, 

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

2:9 But if you show partiality, 

you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law 

but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

2:11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” 

also said, “You shall not murder.” 

Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, 

you have become a transgressor of the law.

2:12 So speak and so act as those 

who are to be judged by the law of liberty.

2:13 For judgment will be without mercy 

to anyone who has shown no mercy; 

mercy triumphs over judgment.

2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, 

if you say you have faith but do not have works? 

Can faith save you?

2:15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,

2:16 and one of you says to them, 

“Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” 

and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, 

what is the good of that?

2:17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

 

As we move forward in our worship series on James

exploring “Faith That Works”

we move from James’ opening exhortation to the early Church

to be doers of the word

encouraging us to…

Just Do It!

Just be the Church…

we move from James giving us a kick in the pants

to stop talking and start doing…

into the meat of his letter

the central focus…

where James begins to unpack and explain what we ought to be doing…

what it means to be doers of the word…

built around the royal law

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

and James’ most famous influence on the church

where he says

2:17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

So often we tend to focus the conversation of this passage

on the great debate of 

whether or not we are saved by the grace of God through our faith

or whether we have to earn our salvation through works?

We’ve talked about this before…

Faith vs. Works…

but I heard an interesting perspective this week on a podcast

that really got me thinking…

some seminary professors from Luther Seminary 

were having a debate about the phrasing of verse 2:14

2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, 

if you say you have faith but do not have works? 

Can faith save you?

the debate was whether the translation was correct in saying

Can faith save you?

or whether it would be more accurate to say

can faith save him?

and then, they debated the implications of the difference…

and this really got me thinking

we tend to think about this passage

as focusing on ourselves, our own personal journey…

and how our own faith or works plays into our own personal salvation

and while that’s certainly part of what’s going on…

James also seems to be making some points about those we serve…

pointing us to the other, those in need around us…

that’s all James talks about leading up to these famous words

offering a scenario between the rich person and the poor person

and our inclination to be judgmental and show favoritism…

that’s what leads into James asking us…

2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, 

if you say you have faith but do not have works? 

Can faith save you?

so instead of just thinking about our own personal salvation through

Faith vs Works

perhaps another question is

Body or Soul?

in sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ

as we spread the word…

are we trying to save one’s Soul?

or are we trying to save one’s Body?

too often, in the name of evangelism,

of sharing the good news…

we think our sole purpose is to save people’s souls

to win people to Christ…

that is the Great Commission after all…

as Jesus tells us…

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, 

baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 

20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

but as Magrey DeVega says

“We see this expressed today by those whose evangelistic efforts 

focus solely on what happens to us after we die 

and whether or not we are going to heaven.”

instead, she goes on to say

“James elevates to equal importance what happens to human bodies, 

because if we do not supply their bodily needs, 

“what is the good of that?” “

2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, 

if you say you have faith but do not have works? 

Can faith save him, or her?

Can faith save those in need around us?

It’s certainly a question I’ve asked myself many times…

On the many mission trips I’ve been on in my life

building houses for the poor in Mexico or with Habitat in the Carolinas

repairing houses for those struggling in Appalachia

serving meals to the homeless at soup kitchens in Asheville and Miami

sorting through clothes to hand out at a clothes closet

or working to fight human trafficking…

and in local mission as well

handing out Senior Food Boxes and Christmas Food Boxes

knocking on doors of Budget motels to give out some food and toiletries

preparing meals of rice and beans to be sent overseas…

packing bags of food for kids to take home with them after school 

so they don’t go hungry…

through various acts of service, helping those in need…

being doers of the word…

I’ve found myself asking

is my purpose here to save their soul?

or to save their body?

and I’ve seen various people take different approaches…

I’ve been on mission trips and local service projects

where people went out trying to be sure you pray together, read scripture, 

or even invite them to a bible study or worship

and I’ve been on mission trips and local service projects

where people tried to simply offer what was needed, 

with no strings attached…

and I’ve wrestled with what’s right…

on these mission trips, 

or in helping those in need in our local community…

even though we are called to share the good news

is it fair to impose my beliefs in exchange for the basic necessities of life?

Is it fair to expect someone in need to be willing to pray, or read scripture

or come to bible study or worship

in order to receive the help they need so desperately?

am I doing these acts of service

for the purpose of saving their souls?

bringing them to Jesus?

or is it to save their bodies?

provide for their basic needs…

If we’re called to go out and make disciples of all the nations

baptizing them and teaching them the ways of Jesus…

maybe we should be praying together, 

or inviting them to worship or bible study,

or at least offering some scripture in the box of food, or backpack

or shoe box sent overseas…

how can we reach out w/our works

being doers of the word

without also doing some evangelism…?

without also sharing the word…?

But as Magrey DeVega explains…

“… James is not interested in a debate 

between works-based and grace-based righteousness.  

He is less interested in the source of salvation 

and more committed to its effects.  

God’s grace ought to prompt us toward good works, 

not as a way of earning our salvation, 

but to demonstrate its power for those in need.  

In regard, James is one of the most evangelistic books 

in the whole New Testament.”

God’s grace ought to prompt us toward good works…

… to demonstrate its power for those in need.  

Like I said,

I’ve been on a lot of mission trips in my life so far…

but the most formative for me was during High school

every year our huge youth group

would take over 100 youth to Mexico to build houses

and we’d build 4 houses each year in a week

which was pretty awesome to be a part of…

and we’d rotate houses so that every person on the trip 

helped build part of each of the 4 houses…

but the most powerful moment each year

was the final day, as we put the finishing touches on each house

then we would go around to each house

and all 100 of us would put our hands on the houses

and we’d pray over the houses

as we blessed and dedicated the houses to God…

it was always such a powerful, spirit-filled moment

a moment when you could feel God moving

it gives me chills to even think about it…

and in fact, that’s part of what made me think last minute…

to have us pray over the Christmas food boxes last year

after we finished packing them all and before we started distributing them

if anyone remembers that…

and what I believe we were doing with those houses, and with those food boxes

was entrusting God’s power to use our works for God’s glory

or as DeVega talks about…

God’s grace prompted us toward those good works…

and then we prayed for God to use those good works

… to demonstrate God’s power for those in need.  

every year the mission trip went to different parts of Mexico, different cities…

but typically it was in a 3-4 year rotation…

so at some point, if you went all 4 years, 

you might get to go back to one of the work sites from before…

My Senior year,

we went back to the same city as my Freshman year

and we had the opportunity to go back to the work site

and we got to go back and see the houses we built 4 years before

and visit with the families 

which was quite a joy to reconnect…

but after visiting for a while

the families got all excited to take us around the corner

to show us what they’d been up to since we were there 4 years earlier…

and as we turned the corner

they were so excited to show us

that they had built a Church!

after providing for their basic bodily needs

needs for shelter

these people came together to build a church

so they could gather for worship and bible studies

and fellowship events…

and the thing is…

that never would have happened

if someone hadn’t found a way to save their bodies first

to provide for their basic needs first…

but once those needs were provided for

God’s power was demonstrated to those in need

and God used it to also save their souls

to make disciples of all nations

to baptize them and teach them the ways of Jesus…

so is it…

Body or Soul?

in sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ

as we spread the word…

are we trying to save one’s Soul?

or are we trying to save one’s Body?

I’m thinking that it’s probably BOTH

BOTH Body AND Soul

but… the catch is…

we can’t save someone’s soul

if we don’t save their bodies first.

so as we go out to be doers of the word

seeking to save their bodies first

through ministries like:

the Senior Food Box Ministry

the Backpack program

or the Christmas Food Boxes

and as we dream of ways 

that we might take each of these ministries deeper

in providing for the needs of our community

may we also pray over these ministries

for God to use our works, as doers of the word

to demonstrate God’s power

so that we can save BOTH

Body AND Soul

For…

2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, 

if you say you have faith but do not have works? 

Can faith save you?

him, or her? or them?

Can faith save those in need around us?

as James reminds us…

2:8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law 

according to the scripture, 

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

AMEN

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