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!

Compassion Ministry Validates Faith!

-What Does Faith Look Like?

If you’re one that believes your salvation is solely about what and whom you believe in, James epistle has to be a bit unnerving for you! I say that because James lays down 3-part evidence for what genuine saving faith looks like; and, it includes (1) Self-control over one’s speech; (2) A Ministry of compassion to the needy; and, (3) Practical Holiness. I am alluding to the words, written by James’ hand while inspired by God’s Holy Spirit— ”If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. 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 1:26-27.

-Compassion Ministry!

James places the ministry of compassion on an equal plane as living a holy life & getting rid of your potty mouth! Unfortunately, many believers tend to separate them and elevate one area over another! Many think that becoming HOLY— or, “…keeping oneself unstained by the world” as James says here— is more important to God than taking care of widows & orphans! God doesn’t see it that way! Each one plays an equal part in living out our faith in Jesus, which is exactly what James means by “pure religion.” Ignore the chapter break— which isn’t inspired; but, added by well-intended individuals— and; discover something even more scandalous! James declares it “favoritism” to look past the needs of orphans & widows.

-Pure Religion Shows No Favoritism!

See how it flows without the chapter break:  “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. My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” James 1:27-2:1. Failing to minister to the needs of orphans & widows is FAVORITISM! Don’t do that, he says! He then goes on to illustrate favoritism, for us, in ch.2. So, I think it’s biblically accurate to say that the “pure and undefiled religion” in 1:26,27 is the same thing as “faith in Jesus” in 2:1. So, is this how you would define genuine faith? If not, perhaps you need to redefine faith the way that God does! It’s His definition that counts!

-Let God Define Genuine Faith!

That may seem obvious to those of you who are passionate about serving Jesus! But, unfortunately, that’s not the case with many in the church who claim to be Christians! I’m referring to the authority, of Scripture, to dictate every area of our lives! EVERY AREA! There is not one part, of my life, that I can claim authority over! God & His Word have complete authority over every area of my life— my thought life, my work life, my sex life, etc. God’s Word has complete authority over all of it! What “I think” and what “I believe” have to be submitted to the Revelation of Scripture; and, repented of & changed when what, “I think” & what “I believe” doesn’t match up with it! Are we in agreement? That is a fundamental of authentic faith in Jesus Christ! It’s no longer a Holy Bible when we start cutting out those parts we don’t like!

 

When Church Culture Meets Needs!

-Haunted By A Scripture!

I grew up in a church culture that did relatively nothing to meet “physical” needs! It was argued that if you gave people money that they’d just spend it on booze & cigarettes & drugs. So, don’t give them anything, we were told! We had no food pantry to provide for the hungry in our city! We had no benevolent funds to assist with other needs! And, yet we thought we were being faithful to God’s Word.  But, there’s a scripture, in James, that always haunted me as I read it:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows” James 1:27.  What do you do with that?

-Playing The Legalist!

How can we just dismiss that? Or, play the “legalist” and limit the spirit of the text to caring for orphans or widows exclusively. At the same time, we cannot just be preoccupied with physical needs and omit the sharing of the Gospel! That’s the problem with many socially-minded churches! If we limit our care, for them, to physical needs & never share the Gospel, with them, all we’ve accomplished is to keep them alive longer, only to prolong their ultimate meeting with God @ the judgment, whereupon their unbelief will be exposed! It’s not “good deeds” or the “Gospel.” It’s not an EITHER-OR! It’s a BOTH-AND decision we must make!

-What Is Pure Religion?

To James, pure religion is not the RESULT of good deeds; but, RESULTS in good deed! We don’t take care of the orphan, the widow & the poor in order to ATTAIN pure religion! Rather, when our religion is the pure Gospel, of Jesus Christ, we become Jesus “in the flesh” when we meet the needs of the orphan, the widow & the poor! “Not by works of righteousness that we have done; but, by His mercy He saves us” Titus 3:5.  Salvation is “…not of works, so no one can boast…” Ephesians 2:9.  But, when we humble ourselves & trust Christ’s atonement work, on the cross, He changes us inside & the Holy Spirit gives us the heart of Jesus! As we are sanctified & grow, in our faith, we’ll want to meet the physical & spiritual needs of the down-trodden, of our world, just like Jesus did! This ought to be a core ministry value for the church!

-A Change That Includes Service!

Look again at that verse in James; but, this time let’s back it up one verse & see how it flows, in context, from one verse to the next:  “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. 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 1:26,27. Notice how James lumps together 3 very practical evidence of pure religion; or, 3 areas of obedience that evidence genuine saving faith— 1) Self-control in your speech; 2) A Ministry of Compassion to the needy; and, 3) Practical holiness. See that? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, James places ministry to the needy & cleaning up a potty mouth on an equal plane as living a holy life! More on that next week!

 

What Do Your Prayers Look Like?

-Are You Willing To Get Honest?

Are you willing to take a good hard look at your prayer life? Of what do your prayers consist? Are your prayers consumed with “requests”? Are they filled with requests that God would change your circumstances? Make your life easier? Make more money at your job? Or, are you asking for a new job? What if none of that is God’s will for your life? Have you ever considered that? Have you ever considered that, for reasons beyond your ability to even comprehend, that it might not be God’s will to heal someone you’re praying for? Have you ever considered, that in God’s eternal plans for His glory & your good, that it might not be His will for you to get the job you’ve always wanted?

-The Proper Motive For Prayer!

The only proper motive, for prayer, is God’s will! In Jesus’ model prayer, he taught His disciples to pray, “…your kingdom come.  YOUR WILL be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Matthew 6:10.  Perhaps the implication is that rather than praying for God to change our circumstances, we ought to pray that God would use the circumstances to change us! Not until after Jesus taught the disciples to pray for God’s will does He turn His attention to praying for our own individual needs. Only after submitting to God’s will, in prayer, does He teach them to pray, “…give us today our daily bread” Matthew 6:11. There is so much we could say about the simplicity of that prayer request! Just give us what we need TODAY! That’s it! Don’t borrow tomorrow’s trouble! Just ask for the Father’s provision TODAY; and, leave it there!

-God Already Knows What We Need!

Earlier, in the same text, Jesus had said:  “When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him” ch. 6:7.  Don’t babble lengthy prayers about your needs, Jesus said, because the Father already knows! Then, Jesus turns His attention to praying for others. Again, this is a MODEL prayer! “When you pray, pray LIKE THIS…” He said.  “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” He said,  ch. 6:12.  In other words, pray that God would forgive you in the SAME WAY that you forgive others! Be so thankful for the Father’s forgiveness that you forgive others in the same way that He forgave you— TOTALLY! COMPLETELY!

-God’s Absolute Forgiveness!

There is nothing anyone has ever done to you that could ever be compared to the quantity & level of depravity that you’ve sinned against God! And, yet, He forgave you! It’s not until we are truly thankful, for His absolute forgiveness, that we are truly able to forgive others! After He’s finished teaching the disciples how to pray, He shared these disturbing words with them:  “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.  But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing” ch. 6:14-15. In essence, He’s telling them to take a hard look at themselves! If they’re unable to forgive others, it’s evidence that they may never have been forgiven themselves!

Is Your God Too Small?

-Are You Too Big?

40 some years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote, what turned into a Christian classic, Your God Is Too Small. It’s a great book! I highly recommend it! Phillips does a great job of capturing the struggle, that we humans have, of seeing how big God really is! We tend to see God as much smaller & less awesome than He is; and, we see ourselves as much bigger & more significant than we really are!

-Superman Don’t Need No Airplane!

I love the story about former heavy weight boxing champ, Muhammad Ali, who loved to boast, in jest, about being the greatest! It was part of his shtick & show! Once, while flying on a commercial flight, the stewardess told him to fasten his seatbelt just before takeoff. “Superman don’t need no seatbelt,” Ali replied; and, the stewardess shot back, “Superman don’t need no airplane, either.” That pretty much epitomizes the attitude the “health, wealth & prosperity FALSE gospel” has spawned here in the western church! The image of God has been distorted!

-He’s No “Genie In A Bottle”!

Much, of the Church, has turned God into a wimpy “Genie in the bottle” kind of God who grants OUR wishes; and, somehow NEEDS us to feel significant! Rather, than the self-sufficient, self-sustaining Sovereign God, that He is, who needs nothing & is the KING of kings & LORD of lords! I love how Paul addresses this subject in his letter to the Roman believers:  “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.  Amen” Romans 11:33-36.

-Glory In God’s Wisdom!

That’s another one of those rich texts, of Scripture, that magnifies & lifts up our Awesome God! Paul is like caught up in the wonder & the mystery of who He is! He seems to be promoting the underlying thought that good or bad, big or small, whatever comes our way, let us give God Glory for everything that happens in life! Notice, he challenges the church to give God Glory for His “…wisdom and knowledge…” Whatever comes, give God Glory because of His wisdom & knowledge. He knows what He’s doing!

-Is God Foolish?

There’s another great verse that Paul included, in his letter, to the Church of Corinth: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” 1 Cor 1:25. Don’t you just love that? Mind you, Paul is NOT saying that God has a foolish side to Him. On the contrary, He’s pointing out how foolish we are when we think we’re really wise & smart. IF God had a foolish side—and, He DOESN’T—He would still be wiser than you and me! He’s “omniscient.” That means He knows everything! Anything that’s knowable, He already knows it; and, He’s known it for all eternity! He knows everything you & I have forgotten; but, He still knows it! And, He knows everything that you & I will never know! Only God knows why He allows the wickedness, in the world, to enjoy temporary victories! Trust His wisdom!