February 19, 2007
Meditation Commentary James 2:14-17
What doth it profit, my brethren, if 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 him, 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.
“For I say to you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will surely not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” These are words that Jesus spoke from a mountainside in Galilee, causing, no doubt, no end of consternation and dismay among his hearers. “More righteous?” they must have thought in disbelief. “How can anyone be more righteous than these paragons of piety?” But it doesn’t end there; as Jesus continues speaking, it becomes quite clear that he does not even consider the scribes and Pharisees to be particularly righteous at all. All the virtuous works of men are naught if the heart is not right—and the heart, apart from the regenerating work of Christ, can never be made right.
Instead, it is as Paul says: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). It is by grace and through faith, and not due to any sort of works—we have no works we can boast in of ourselves; even the Pharisees, meticulously pious, were mistaken in their pride. But God has chosen to love the unlovable, and to save us who are incapable of saving ourselves. What an indescribably beautiful, utterly undeserved gift! It is humbling and overwhelming, and it breathes new meaning into life itself. “Love is what makes the world go round,” someone has said; but it is not human love, broken and unable as it is, that turns the world, but God’s love and only God’s love, exemplified in the incredible sacrifice he made on the cross in order that we might know him.
And then James enters in, reminding us that we cannot simply take for granted this gift. Yes, it is grace through faith that saves us; yes, we rejoice in what we have been given. But a faith without living works is dead. Knowing the love God has for his children and the sacrifice he made for them is a revelation that, if kept in mind continually, must well up and spill over into our relationship with others. We are called to love our enemies; but that love does not come from ourselves. On the contrary, it is an overflow of what God has filled us with. And having been so filled, how can we pass others by when they are in need? How can we, seeing a naked, hungry brother, simply cry out cheerfully, “Oh, brother, may God’s blessings be upon you!” and then walk away? No; if we are filled with the revelation of God’s love, that love wells up within us and must overflow. We will take that hungry brother in hand, as God took us in hand, and give to him everything we can.