A Faith That Doesn’t Serve!

-It’s A Questionable Faith!

Faith that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! Listen to what James writes, in his epistle:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.  “Is that even saving faith?” James seems to be asking,  “What good is that kind of faith?

-Can That Faith Save Him?

If I understand the text correctly, in the original Greek it has the definite article relating to “faith”; so, the question James really seems to be asking is, “Can THAT faith save him?” Can a faith that has no passion for serving the needy & the less fortunate even be genuine, saving faith? It’s questionable! The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Church of Galatia: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” Galatians 5:6. In other words, if we are “in Christ” HE will produce a faith, in us, that is working through love! God IS love! So, if God— in Christ— is IN us, we’ll love more & more as we are sanctified more & more. We’ll look like Jesus!

-Looking Like Jesus!

He loved the rejects of society, the wounded, the hurting, the forgotten & those who’ve been kicked to the curb! So, if the Spirit of Jesus is “in us”, that has to work its way out through acts of love & service! If you don’t care about those in need around you, perhaps you ought to question if your faith is the real thing! James seems to say that any faith that fails to serve is worthless! What good is it?  Young’s literal translation asks, “What is the profit” of a faith that doesn’t serve? It’s worthless! Jesus lived the most profitable, worthy life ever lived because He lived it for God the Father & for others! For US! He gave Himself up for all the sins of all people of all time! So, how can we say we love Jesus if we live our lives just for ourselves? That’s the message James is trying to get across to the churches he’s writing to:  “A loveless faith is worthless!” It has no value to God; or, to anyone else! He finishes by saying that any faith that fails to serve is DEAD! (v.17)

-As Good As Dead!

He says, “…faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (v.17).  He’s NOT preaching that we are saved by good deeds; or, that we serve others to earn our salvation! No! It’s in the serving & the ministry that our “faith” PROVES to be ALIVE! Otherwise, “…it’s dead by itself.” It’s just empty words! The 16th-century reformer, John Calvin, once said:  “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone!” There have to be acts of service & works of love to prove it’s genuine faith. So let me close by making this appeal to you—seek service & ministry opportunities both within your faith community & your city! Not on the basis of obligation; but, because your faith is genuine; and, like Jesus, you’re a “friend of sinners.”

 

The Proof Of Your Faith!

-As You Wish!

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride.  It’s a romantic comedy; and, if you haven’t seen it, you need to! It’s a classic! It begins in the home of Buttercup, who’s dressed in the drab brown clothes of a peasant girl; but, orders everyone around as if she were royalty. Another peasant, named Wesley, is a laborer on Buttercup’s farm; and, the narrator—Peter Falk, he of Columbo fame—says that Buttercup’s greatest pleasure, in life, came from tormenting Wesley. She calls him “farm boy” & orders him to do all kinds of menial, boring jobs. But, regardless how menial the task, Wesley always responds the same way— ”As you wish!” While she’s incredibly condescending toward Wesley, he never refuses her demands; and, his attitude is always kind & willing. One day, she has an epiphany; and, the narrator says:  “That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, ‘As you wish’ what he really meant was ‘I love you.’”

-Communicating Love!

I love that line because it fits so well into a Biblical conversation about service. It’s Buttercup’s realization that Westley was communicating his love for her, through his service to her, that holds such a remarkable spiritual parallel to something the Spirit of God inspired James to write:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.

-The Invisibility Of Faith!

By its very nature, faith is invisible! You can’t see it! I can tell you that I have faith; but, I can’t show it to you.  James says, however, that faith can be seen through good works or acts of service & ministry.  He uses this imaginary person who claims to have faith; though, it can’t be seen. But, James disagrees:  “Yes, you can!” he argues, “You can see faith! You see faith when a believer offers to serve someone who lacks food; or, the necessities of life.” And, then, he uses the example of Abraham in the verses that follow. You can see Abraham’s faith, in his obedience to God, when he offered Isaac, his son, on an altar, James argues.

-Works Cooperate With Faith!

Abraham’s works were cooperating, with his faith, so that His faith actually became visible through his works. He offers Rahab, as another example, in his text.  In essence, James shows us that saving faith always produces acts of service that evidence it’s genuineness.  That’s why it must be a core ministry value, for every community of faith, to serve widows & orphans & others who are marginalized by their neediness. God’s word tells us that’s really the only way people can SEE our faith! Our faith is seen in the way that we love people! That means that any “faith” that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! James asks, “What good is it my brothers if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” It’s no good!

 

Lead Like Jesus!

-Not Like Rockstars!

The more I read the Gospel accounts about Jesus’ interactions, with His disciples, the more convinced I am that the prevailing world view, of His day, was really not much different than that of our own. The disciples all wanted to be “ROCKSTARS.” That’s why they followed Jesus at the start! He was popular! They thought He was going to be king over Israel & deliver their people from the Romans. Who wouldn’t want to latch onto that star, if given a chance, and, ride it as far as it would go? If ever they were going to be His disciples, Jesus would have to retrain & reteach them! His kingdom was not of this world, He told them!

-Jesus’ Kingdom Way!

The way of Jesus’ kingdom was entirely different from the kingdoms of this world. Listen to what Jesus told them, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel:  “Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In essence, Jesus is teaching them to live their lives out in the hidden places of service rather than the public places of being noticed. One of my favorite pastors & authors challenges us to make that our prayer! We’ll have to pray that God changes our heart & makes us a servant; because we’ll never choose the place of obscure service in our flesh.

-Jesus Is Attractive To Many!

You see, Jesus & His Gospel have been misrepresented by much of the western church! So many self-identified “Christians” live such a selfish, mean-spirited, ugly way of life that our unbelieving neighbors want nothing to do with whatever it is they’re peddling! But, many unbelievers do find Jesus attractive! And, many find the true church— that strives to follow Jesus & His teachings— to be attractive like Him! Just think about it church—Jesus won us over because He served us at our deepest need! He loved us in spite of our sinful brokenness! Our cities & our neighbors will begin to pay attention to the church again when we serve them, in their need, like Jesus served us! When we love them like Jesus loved us!

-Jesus’ Model Of Greatness!

That’s how Jesus discipled His followers, according to Mark’s text. This is what true greatness looks like, in Jesus’ kingdom! Don’t steal the world’s model for greatness because it doesn’t look anything like greatness in God’s realm! True greatness, in God’s kingdom, is counter-intuitive to this world’s standard. The “…rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them…” If you’re going to rule or lead, in the Gentile world— or, among unbelievers— you have to dominate them! You have to show ‘em who’s in charge! Like the former Russian Communist leader, Lenin, once said: “One man with a gun can control 100 without one.” That’s worldly leadership! It’s not Jesus’ way!

Pure Religion!

-An Orphan’s Story!

I married the granddaughter of an orphan! When my wife’s grandfather was a young boy, his father died; and, his mother remarried.  Unfortunately, her new husband out NOT to be the kind of man she thought he was.  He held no regard for her children; and, when she died, he considered them disposable; and, had them removed from his home. My wife’s grandfather was a 14-year old boy when the authorities placed him in an orphanage where he was physically abused; until it was discovered and he was removed and placed in a foster-care home where he was loved & cared for. Eventually, he came to faith in Jesus Christ, married my wife’s grandmother & they established a Christian home together. A home that produced a legacy of faith with children, grandchildren & great-grandchildren who’ve grown up loving Jesus. What a great story, right! An “orphan’s story” with a happy ending!

-An Orphan Crisis!

Unfortunately, that’s the exception. There is an orphan crisis in our world! I was shocked to discover that there are more than 153 million orphans worldwide! That’s staggering! If orphans were a country, of their own, their population would rank 9th in the world, ahead of Russia! 100 million of them live or work on the streets. They survive by selling flowers or cigarettes, by watching cars; and, many sell their bodies, for sex, or engage in criminal activity. Many, of these street children, are subjected to abuse, neglect, exploitation; or, in extreme cases, are murdered by “death squads” paid by their governments to “clean up” the image of their cities.

-It’s Easy To Become Hard-Hearted!

So, why am I sharing all this with you? Why should you care? It’s so easy to become hardened to all the images, isn’t it? We’re bombarded with the infomercials! The sad faces. The sad music. The compelling stories. All meant to move us to reach into our wallets ad pay up! And, we can try and rationalize that so many of the agencies out there, who claim to be helping the orphan population, are just siphoning off huge amounts, from the giving, to support elaborate lifestyles for their big-name CEO’s. So, let me tell you why this is important to you! Because we can’t just ignore what God’s Word says about it! God has an opinion & we need to listen!

-Look After Orphans!

It’s a statement inspired by God’s Holy Spirit— “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:27.  What was that? “PURE RELIGION” is looking after orphans & widows? Is James supporting a salvation of good deeds? No, he’s not! The book James authored dovetails quite nicely with Paul’s book to the Romans. James is NOT saying that your good deeds, like caring for orphans & widows, will result in salvation! Rather, that the result of genuine, saving faith, in Jesus—or, “pure religion” he calls it—is to love others! Like orphans, widows & the marginalized of society! God gives us a heart to love & serve them!

 

Love Is An Action!

-Love Is A Verb!

Someone said it like this:  “Love is a verb! Without action, it is merely a word.” Jesus embodied that love from the beginning, of his life, to the very end when He died a substitutionary death, on the cross, to pay the price for the sin of the world! No one ever loved like Jesus loved! “No one has greater love than this,” He said, “that someone would lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13.  Jesus was the friend of sinners! And, the nearer we are, to Jesus, the closer we’ll get to people— that we might serve them like He did!

-Too Heavenly Minded!

There’s an old saying that, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they’re of no earthly good.” We’ll serve the people, of planet earth like Jesus served, when we love like Jesus loved! Genuine love is way more than words, like, “I love you, brother!” It’s about action! It’s about deeds and service! “Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action” 1 John 3:18.  You can tell people you love them; but, it’s more effective when you show them! In the famous passage of Scripture, where Jesus washes His disciple’s feet, the chapter begins with these words: “Now by the time of supper, the Devil had already put it into the heart of Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Him.  Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into His hands, that He had come from God, and that He was going back to God” John 13:2-3.  Jesus knew what His purpose was for coming to this earth He had created! He also knew where He was going— ”…back to God.” So, He knew His destiny. He could live His entire life “pre-occupied” with loving & serving mankind!

-Pre-Occupied With Love & Service!

If we know Jesus, as Savior, we also know our destiny! We’re destined to live forever WITH HIM! “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus told those who followed Him, “that where I am you will be also” (John 14:2-3).  It would seem, from Scripture, that He’s doing that right now! From the time He ascended, back to the Father, He has been preparing a place for us to live with Him. If we truly believe that is our destiny, it will change our lives! We can serve others with the secure knowledge that Jesus has taken care of our future! That’s why Paul challenged the Church of Rome to, “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice… it’s your reasonable service” Romans 12:1. We’ll serve like Jesus served when we embrace our destiny!

-It’s Reasonable To Serve!

It only makes sense to serve, Paul says. It’s reasonable to give your life away in sacrificial ministry. Jesus served with reckless, radical abandon because He knew His destiny! We can serve in the same radical way! We know that Jesus will take care of us today; and, He’ll take care of our future! “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Luke 12:32-34.  Don’t live your life in anxiety! Love! Serve! Minister to others! Your future is secure in Christ!

 

Serve One Another!

-Jesus, The Example!

For I have given you an example,” Jesus told His disciples, after washing their feet, “that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master…” John 13:15-17.  The example, He set before them, was NOT the washing of their feet! In some circles, where the washing of feet is practiced, individuals can actually take “pride” in the “humility” they display as they wash each other’s feet. No, the example Jesus sets is true humility in the serving of others! It is humble deference to others; and, serving them in every life situation!

-Jesus, The Master!

I am your Master,” Jesus says, “And I’ve given you an example to serve in the SAME WAY you’re seen me serve!” That’s the identity that Jesus gives us! That’s who we are! We are servants, just like Jesus, our Master! We’re called Christians; and, that literally means “little Christs.” Acts 11 says the believers were first called “little Christs” at Antioch. They so resembled the humble, servant Christ that the unbelievers said they acted just like Him! Like a “little Christ.” We will never serve like Jesus served until we grab hold of that! To use Jesus’ words, our purpose & calling is to “…do as I have done to you…” He calls us to be a servant to all! Just like Jesus!

-Jesus, The Lover!

But, we will never serve like Jesus served until we love like Jesus loved! In the first verse, of John 13, it says, of Jesus, “…having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The key to understanding that verse; and, the kind of love Jesus had, is found in that phrase, “…He loved them to the end.” It means “to the uttermost” or with “total fullness.” He loved them “utterly”, with “total fullness”; even though He knew that His hour, to endure the cross, was near! Though He knew of His approaching death to pay for the sin of the world! All the way to the cross He is pre-occupied with His love for them! His kind of love drove Him to serve! To minister! And, we’ll not serve like Jesus until we learn to love like He loved! It’s quite simple really! We don’t serve because our pre-occupation is with other things! We’re pre-occupied with the building of our own little kingdoms; rather, than His kingdom! We don’t serve because it’s not on our agenda!

-Will They Know You’re His Disciple?

We’re not in love with the same things Jesus was in love with! Later, in the same chapter, John records these words of Jesus: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:35. The world will know that we are Christians (“little Christs”) by our love; and, our love will be evidenced by a life of service to others! Loveless people are too pre-occupied with their own “self importance” to do common ministry… like washing someone’s feet! Not Jesus! He is fully aware of His identity! He is the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” He is God incarnate! And, He’s washing the feet of disciples who were too proud to serve each other! That is true love’s character! And, the nearer we are, to Jesus, the closer we’ll get to other people! And, we’ll serve them like Jesus did!

 

The Interests Of Others!

-We’re Too Bratty & Hard To Please!

Is it just me? Or, are Christians far too easily offended? It seems like there are an awful lot of really “thin-skinned” believers; and, modern culture & technology provide them this unprecedented number of places to vent their wrath—social media & reality TV & the internet & talk shows all offer a platform to puff-up our feelings of self-importance & fuel our self-righteous attitudes! It seems incredibly reflective, of our idolatrous society, that even Christians have become bratty & hard-to-please! I’ve eaten out  at a restaurant, with a Christian friend, who berates a waitress for bringing them the wrong dish & decides to write a scathing online review for everyone to read! Where is grace & mercy?

-It’s Embarrassing!

It’s really embarrassing when compared to the real persecution that believers face in other parts of the world! I mean, what else might be on that poor waitresses mind? A severely ill spouse? Up all night with a baby? Why aren’t we asking— with genuine concern— if they’re okay? Why not offer to pray with her? This stuff is epidemic; and, surveys are revealing that one of the main reasons the lost aren’t coming to church is because of the conduct of those who claim to be following Jesus! Instead of enhancing the Gospel of Christ, as Jesus intends, we’re part of the problem!

-We’re Too Easily Offended!

Right now, one of my best friends, in the ministry, is fighting a battle for his pastoral life because he “dared” to lovingly confront a mom & dad over their out-of-control toddler, who screams during the entire Worship service; and, they refuse to take him out of the service! They were “offended” that he would ask them to remove the screaming child for the benefit of the rest of the faith community! We were talking about this in our Thursday morning men’s Small Group & one of our members mentioned that of all the people he’s known, who’ve left the church over the last 20 some years since his conversion, he thought that no more than 3 or 4 actually had Biblical grounds for leaving! The rest left over purely selfish reasons! And, they will stand one day before the One who was beaten, mocked, spit upon & finally hung on a cross to die— “You left your church over that? Really? Go get a cross & deny yourself!

-Loving Others!

We need to beat the drum to LOVE OTHERS! We need to preach that message better and more often! Because most in the church, today, just don’t get it! We need to preach & teach the church how to love others selflessly & assume personal responsibility to deal with personal sin, resolve conflict & restore wounded relationships! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Philippi: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” Philippians 2:4. That last line is perhaps the most significant! If we’re going to be part of the solution, church, we have to “…LOOK ALSO FOR THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.” Don’t just focus on your own interests, Paul says. We need to be rescued from our idol of narcissism, church!