Faith Moves Us to Action!
“You behold that [Abraham’s] faith worked along with his works and by his works his faith was perfected.”—JAMES 2:22.
1, 2. How will we act if we have faith?
MANY say that they have faith in God. Yet, mere professed faith is as lifeless as a corpse. “Faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself,” wrote the disciple James. He also said that God-fearing Abraham had faith that “worked along with his works.” (James 2:17, 22) What significance do such words have for us?
2 If we have true faith, we will not just believe what we hear at Christian meetings. We will give evidence of faith because we are active Witnesses of Jehovah. Yes, faith will prompt us to apply God’s Word in life and will move us to action.
Favoritism Not Compatible With Faith
3, 4. How should faith affect the way we treat others?
3 If we have genuine faith in God and Christ, we will not show favoritism. (James 2:1-4) Some to whom James wrote were not displaying the impartiality required of true Christians. (Romans 2:11) Hence, James asks: “You are not holding the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, our glory, with acts of favoritism, are you?” If a rich unbeliever with gold rings and splendid garments came to a meeting as well as an unbelieving “poor man in filthy clothing,” both of them should have been well received, but special attention was being shown to the wealthy. They were given seats “in a fine place,” whereas poor unbelievers were told to stand or to sit on the floor at someone’s feet.
4 Jehovah provided the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ for rich and poor alike. (2 Corinthians 5:14) If we were to cater to the rich, therefore, we would be departing from the faith of Christ, who ‘became poor that we might become rich through his poverty.’ (2 Corinthians 8:9) Let us never judge people in such a way—with the wrong motive of honoring humans. God is not partial, but if we showed partiality, we would be “rendering wicked decisions.” (Job 34:19) With a desire to please God, surely we will not succumb to the temptation to show favoritism or to ‘admire personalities for the sake of our own benefit.’—Jude 4, 16.
5. Who has God chosen to be “rich in faith,” and how do the materially rich often act?
5 James identifies the truly rich and urges that love be shown to all impartially. (James 2:5-9) ‘God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.’ This is so because the poor are often more responsive to the good news. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29) As a class, the materially rich oppress others with regard to debts, wages, and legal actions. They speak evil of Christ and persecute us because we bear his name. But let it be our determination to obey “the kingly law,” which requires neighbor love—being equally loving toward rich and poor. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:37-40) Since God requires this, showing favoritism is “working a sin.”
‘Mercy Exults Over Judgment’
6. How would we be lawbreakers if we did not deal mercifully with others?
6 If we unmercifully show favoritism, we are lawbreakers. (James 2:10-13) By taking a false step in this regard, we become offenders against all of God’s laws. Israelites who did not commit adultery but who were thieves became transgressors of the Mosaic Law. As Christians, we are judged by “the law of a free people”—spiritual Israel in the new covenant, having its law in their hearts.—Jeremiah 31:31-33.
7. Why can those continuing to show favoritism not expect mercy from God?
7 If we claim to have faith but persist in showing favoritism, we are in danger. Those who are unloving and merciless will have their judgment without mercy. (Matthew 7:1, 2) James says: “Mercy exults triumphantly over judgment.” If we accept the guidance of Jehovah’s holy spirit by showing mercy in all our dealings, we will not be condemned when we are judged. Rather, we will experience mercy and will thus triumph over strict justice or adverse judgment.
Faith Produces Fine Works
8. What is the situation of a person who says he has faith but lacks works?
8 Besides making us loving and merciful, faith produces other fine works. (James 2:14-26) Of course, professed faith that lacks works is not going to save us. True, we cannot earn a righteous standing with God by works of the Law. (Romans 4:2-5) James is talking about works motivated, not by a law code, but by faith and love. If we are moved by such qualities, we will not merely express kind wishes for a needy fellow worshiper. We will give material aid to an unclad or hungry brother or sister. James asks: ‘If you tell a needy brother: “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed” but do not provide the necessities, of what benefit is that?’ None. (Job 31:16-22) Such “faith” is lifeless!
9. What shows that we have faith?
9 We may be associating with God’s people to some extent, but only wholehearted works can back up our claim that we have faith. It is fine if we have rejected the Trinity doctrine and believe that there is one true God. Yet, mere belief is not faith. “The demons believe,” and they “shudder” fearfully because destruction awaits them. If we truly have faith, it will move us to produce such works as preaching the good news and providing food and clothing for needy fellow believers. James asks: “Do you care to know, O empty man [not filled with accurate knowledge of God], that faith apart from works is inactive?” Yes, faith calls for action.
10. Why is Abraham called “the father of all those having faith”?
10 The faith of the godly patriarch Abraham moved him to action. As “the father of all those having faith,” he was “declared righteous by works after he had offered up Isaac his son upon the altar.” (Romans 4:11, 12; Genesis 22:1-14) What if Abraham had lacked faith that God could resurrect Isaac and fulfill His promise of a seed through him? Then Abraham would never have tried to offer up his son. (Hebrews 11:19) It was by Abraham’s obedient works that “his faith was perfected,” or made complete. Thereby, “the scripture [Genesis 15:6] was fulfilled which says: ‘Abraham put faith in Jehovah, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” Abraham’s works in trying to offer up Isaac confirmed God’s earlier pronouncement that Abraham was righteous. By works of faith, he showed his love for God and came to be called “Jehovah’s friend.”
11. What evidence of faith do we have in the case of Rahab?
11 Abraham proved “that a man is to be declared righteous by works, and not by faith alone.” That was also true of Rahab, a harlot in Jericho. She was “declared righteous by works, after she had received the [Israelite] messengers hospitably and sent them out by another way” so that they eluded their Canaanite enemies. Before meeting Israel’s spies, she recognized Jehovah as the true God, and her subsequent words and abandonment of prostitution gave evidence of her faith. (Joshua 2:9-11; Hebrews 11:31) After this second example of faith shown by works, James says: “Indeed, as the body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” When a person is dead, there is no animating force, or “spirit,” in him, and he accomplishes nothing. Mere professed faith is just as lifeless and useless as a dead body. If we have real faith, though, it will move us to godly action.
Control That Tongue!
12. What should be done by elders in the congregation?
12 Speaking and teaching can also provide evidence of faith, but there is a need for restraint. (James 3:1-4) As teachers in the congregation, elders have a weighty responsibility and great accountability to God. Hence, they should humbly examine their motives and qualifications. Besides knowledge and ability, these men must have a deep love for God and for fellow believers. (Romans 12:3, 16; 1 Corinthians 13:3, 4) Elders must base their counsel on the Scriptures. If an elder were to err in his teaching and this resulted in problems for others, he would be judged adversely by God through Christ. Elders should therefore be humble and studious, faithfully adhering to God’s Word.
13. Why do we stumble in word?
13 Even fine teachers—in fact, all of us—“stumble many times” because of imperfection. Stumbling in word is one of the most frequent and potentially damaging shortcomings. James says: “If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body.” Unlike Jesus Christ, we do not have perfect tongue control. If we did, we could control the other members of our body. After all, bridles and bits make horses go where we direct, and by means of a small rudder, even a large boat driven by hard winds can be steered as the helmsman wishes.
14. How does James stress the need for effort in order to control the tongue?
14 All of us must honestly admit that real effort is needed to control the tongue. (James 3:5-12) Compared to a horse, a bridle is small; so is a rudder in comparison with a ship. And when compared with the human body, the tongue is small “and yet makes great brags.” Since the Scriptures make it clear that boasting displeases God, let us seek his help to refrain from it. (Psalm 12:3, 4; 1 Corinthians 4:7) May we also restrain our tongue when provoked, remembering that it takes only a spark to set a forest aflame. As James indicates, “the tongue is a fire” with ability to cause great damage. (Proverbs 18:21) Why, an unruly tongue “is constituted a world of unrighteousness”! Every evil trait of this ungodly world is associated with the uncontrolled tongue. It is responsible for such damaging things as slander and false teaching. (Leviticus 19:16; 2 Peter 2:1) What do you think? Should not our faith move us to work hard at controlling our tongue?
15. What harm may be done by the unbridled tongue?
15 An unbridled tongue ‘spots us up’ completely. For instance, if we are caught lying repeatedly, we may become known as liars. How, though, does an unruly tongue ‘set the wheel of natural life aflame’? By making life like a vicious circle. A whole congregation may be upset by one uncontrolled tongue. James mentions “Gehenna,” the Valley of Hinnom. Once used for child sacrifice, it became a dump for the disposal of Jerusalem’s refuse by fire. (Jeremiah 7:31) So Gehenna is a symbol of annihilation. In a sense, Gehenna has lent its destructive power to the unruly tongue. If we do not bridle our tongue, we ourselves may become victims of the blaze we have started. (Matthew 5:22) We may even be expelled from the congregation for reviling someone.—1 Corinthians 5:11-13.
16. In view of the damage that can be done by an unruly tongue, what should we do?
16 As you may know from reading God’s Word, Jehovah decreed that man should have animal creation in subjection. (Genesis 1:28) And all kinds of creatures have been tamed. For instance, trained falcons have been used in hunting. The ‘creeping things’ James mentions may include serpents controlled by snake charmers. (Psalm 58:4, 5) Man can even control whales, but as sinful humans we cannot fully tame the tongue. Nevertheless, we should avoid making abusive, cutting, or slanderous remarks. An unruly tongue can be a dangerous instrument filled with deadly poison. (Romans 3:13) Regrettably, the tongues of false teachers turned some early Christians away from God. So let us never allow ourselves to be overcome by venomous apostate expressions, whether spoken or written.—1 Timothy 1:18-20; 2 Peter 2:1-3.
17, 18. What inconsistency is pointed out at James 3:9-12, and what should we do in this regard?
17 Faith in God and a desire to please him can protect us from apostasy and can prevent us from using the tongue inconsistently. Pointing to the inconsistency of some, James says that ‘with the tongue we bless our Father, Jehovah, and curse men who have come into existence in God’s likeness.’ (Genesis 1:26) Jehovah is our Father in that he “gives to all persons life and breath and all things.” (Acts 17:24, 25) He is also the Father of anointed Christians in a spiritual sense. All of us are “in the likeness of God” as to mental and moral qualities, including the love, justice, and wisdom that distinguish us from animals. So, then, how should we act if we have faith in Jehovah?
18 If we were to curse men, that would mean that we would invoke, or call down, evil upon them. Since we are not divinely inspired prophets authorized to call down evil on anyone, such speech would be evidence of hatred that would make our blessing of God vain. It is not proper for both “blessing and cursing” to come forth from the same mouth. (Luke 6:27, 28; Romans 12:14, 17-21; Jude 9) How sinful it would be to sing praises to God at meetings and later speak evil of fellow believers! Both sweet and bitter water cannot bubble forth from the same fountain. As “a fig tree cannot produce olives or a vine figs,” salt water cannot produce sweet water. Something is spiritually wrong if we, who should speak what is good, persistently utter bitter words. If we have fallen into that practice, let us pray for Jehovah’s help to stop speaking in such a way.—Psalm 39:1.
Act With Wisdom From Above
19. If we are guided by heavenly wisdom, how may we affect others?
19 All of us need wisdom to say and do things befitting those who have faith. (James 3:13-18) If we have reverential fear of God, he grants us heavenly wisdom, the ability to use knowledge aright. (Proverbs 9:10; Hebrews 5:14) His Word teaches us how to display “a mildness that belongs to wisdom.” And because we are mild, we promote congregational peace. (1 Corinthians 8:1, 2) Any who brag about being great teachers of fellow believers are ‘lying against Christian truth,’ which condemns their egotism. (Galatians 5:26) Their “wisdom” is “earthly”—characteristic of sinful humans alienated from God. It is “animal,” being the product of fleshly inclinations. Why, it is even “demonic,” for wicked spirits are proud! (1 Timothy 3:6) Let us therefore act with wisdom and humility so that we do nothing to create an atmosphere wherein such ‘vile things’ as slander and favoritism can flourish.
20. How would you describe heavenly wisdom?
20 “Wisdom from above is first of all chaste,” making us clean morally and spiritually. (2 Corinthians 7:11) It is “peaceable,” moving us to pursue peace. (Hebrews 12:14) Heavenly wisdom makes us “reasonable,” not dogmatic and hard to deal with. (Philippians 4:5) Wisdom from above is “ready to obey,” promoting obedience to divine teaching and cooperation with Jehovah’s organization. (Romans 6:17) Wisdom from above also makes us merciful, compassionate. (Jude 22, 23) Being full of “good fruits,” it prompts concern for others and actions in harmony with goodness, righteousness, and truth. (Ephesians 5:9) And as peacemakers, we enjoy “the fruit of righteousness” that thrives under peaceful conditions.
21. According to James 2:1–3:18, to what actions should our faith in God move us?
21 Clearly, then, faith moves us to action. It makes us impartial, merciful, and active in fine works. Faith helps us to control the tongue and to act with heavenly wisdom. But that is not all we can learn from this letter. James has further counsel that can help us to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting those who have faith in Jehovah.
How Would You Answer?
□ What is wrong with showing favoritism?
□ How are faith and works related?
□ Why is it so important to control the tongue?
□ What is heavenly wisdom like?