James 2:16

Saturday, 13 July 2019

…and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? James 2:16

James just spoke of the person who is “naked and destitute of daily food.” Now, referring to those he is writing to, he says, “and one of you says to them.” It is a believer speaking to the person who is naked or destitute of daily food. There is an obvious understanding of the person’s plight. Nobody could look at him and not understand the need which exists. And yet, instead of offering assistance, there is just a general greeting, “Depart in peace.”

The words were a common way of sending another off. Three examples from the gospels and Acts will show this –

1) After Jesus forgave a woman of her sins, he said, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Luke7:50

2) After he had healed a woman of her flow of blood, he said, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” Luke 8:48

3) After Paul and Silas were released from captivity, the keeper of the prison said, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace.”

In the case of James’ example, the individual says this to the one in need, but then adds in “be warmed and filled.” It sounds like a noble blessing and it is probably intended to make the one saying it feel good about himself, as if he had accomplished something. However, James continues with the words, “but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body.”

If you notice in the three examples from the gospels and Acts, those who were told to depart in peace had received some tangible benefit. The woman who was a sinner was freed from her sin-debt. The woman who had the issue of blood was freed from her affliction. And the apostles who were jailed were allowed to depart without further charge or harm. For them, the words “Go in peace,” were because they had been granted something that could provide them with the peace they were in need of.

On the other hand, the person who is in need in this example in James has been given nothing but a word of encouragement. Of this, James asks what will that profit them? The answer is, “Nothing.” In fact, it will only deepen the affliction they have through the knowledge that their destitute state doesn’t matter to another believer at all. Where is their love, empathy, or any care in their words? Has this person been healed in any way? Certainly not. But this is the purpose of our faith. It is to understand that we have been given mercy, and we are to then extend that mercy to others.

In his words, James uses the term ophelos, or profit. As in verse 2:14, he again asks, “what does it profit?” James is not speaking of the one with faith. Rather, he is speaking of the one in need. Therefore, the question of verse 2:14, “Can faith save him?”, is not speaking of the person with faith, but of the one who is in need. It should say, “Can faith heal him?” The answer is, “Without deeds, ‘No!’” That will continue to be explained in the next verses.

Life application: Doing good deeds for the name and for the cause of Christ – this is what James is speaking of today. How many times do we see a friend in need and feel sorry for him, but don’t really do anything to help him? “Gee, I’m so sorry about that Tom…”

Often we feel helpless simply because the problem is something too big for us to handle, or it is out of our area of expertise. Or, maybe we are just too busy to get involved. For whatever reason, we tell Tom, “I wish you well…” If our words aren’t backed up with something more solid, they may really mean nothing to Tom.

Quite often, something more solid can simply be spending time with the person. A lot of the pain of difficult times is the isolation during them. If a friend is sick, getting divorced, financially ruined, etc., then it is true that we may not be able to help them with the main problem. But we may be able to lend an ear when they need to talk, or to take them out – away from their pains for awhile – to dinner or a movie. What is seemingly unhelpful may be a great value to the person.

In James 2:16, the matter is something we could help with – a friend or stranger who is cold and hungry can easily be given something warm and some food. Wishing them well and spending a few minutes with them really doesn’t help them at all. What they need is a Big Mac and a blanket.

If you have never helped out at a homeless shelter or an inner-city mission, you might try it. And you might realize that it is a blessing to you as much or more than for the people whom you have helped. Make an effort to help in whatever capacity is relevant to the situation. People don’t normally forget kindness and the Lord certainly remembers every good act done in His name.

Lord, give us hearts to help the helpless; give us the desire to assist the needy; grant us the ability to carry through with those intentions, and to provide us with the understanding that You are the one to receive the glory when the deed is done. May we be instruments of Your love to those who are suffering. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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