Text: James 2:14–26 ESV
Today we’ll be talking about Mutual Care, meaning God’s adopted children love their brothers and sisters.
Here’s how our documents talk about mutual care:
“The call to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor as ourselves is a relational call. Add to this the ‘one anothers’ of Scripture, and our call to engage believers and unbelievers in a caring and relational way is inescapable. Our entire model is centered around Life Groups—a relational model itself. This is purposeful, because we see Scripture as intricately interwoven with commandments of heart and mind. We must live what we have been called to do, or we don’t really believe it.”
Here’s what we mean by this. Our hands laboring to help build someone’s house, our humbling of ourselves to let an offense go, or our showing up every Wednesday or Thursday to meet again with people who call us to live more holy lives cannot come from ourselves. God has called us to this kind of sacrificial love, and we will not be able to live like that if we don’t have faith—faith that fuels our obedience.
So the main point of this sermon is that God calls his people to care for one another, and he promises he will make it happen.
Faith Fuels Obedience
I say “faith fuels our obedience” because James identifies a kind of faith that is different than that—a kind of faith that takes us nowhere.
James shows us this negative vision of faith by introducing us to a fool in God’s eyes and a friend in God’s eyes. The fool gets called out for who he is in verse 20:
“Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:20 ESV)
Now this fool’s vision of faith starts back in verse 18, but like any good movie, James sets the stage for the fools entrance. In verses 14–17, he tips his hat as to where this story is going. So let’s read that paragraph before we officially meet the bumbling fool.
This opening scene is full of spoiler alerts. James asks some questions that he hopes have obvious answers. Then, he makes us a fly on the wall between a poor man and and rich one. The poor man needs some clothes and food, and the rich man, seeing the needs of this brother has much sympathy for him. So the rich man says to the poor fella,
“Go in peace, be warmed and filled.” (James 2:16 ESV)
The rich man walks away with a huge smile as he thinks about how much he has helped this poor friend. The only problem is that the rich man didn’t give the poor guy anything. He just said some true things and walked away. The rich man did nothing to help the poor man.
We, as the readers, are supposed to see this and think to ourselves, “Those words from the rich man meant nothing. They meant nothing because he did nothing.” Then, James finishes the comparison to faith—
“faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17 ESV)
Meeting a Fool
Now we meet the fool in verse 18:
“But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” (James 2:18 ESV)
So this person thinks of faith and works like talents the Lord gives people—one guy can paint; this other guy over there cannot, but he is a really good speller. In other words, some of us have faith as a gift from God and other people have works as a gift.
James responds, “Faith and works are not able to be separated. It’s a package deal. You either have both or none.” So James would agree that you are saved by faith alone (that is, you can’t earn your way into heaven by doing enough good things). But he would finish the sentence by saying, “You are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone. It will produce fruit.”
This is how James responds in the rest of the verse:
“Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:18–19 ESV)
So we see that James does not think that we need to earn our way into heaven as if he disagrees with Paul when Paul says,
“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:28 ESV).
No, he doesn’t disagree with Paul. Both Paul and James identify two types of faith.
On the one hand, you have a faith that says the right things but produces none of the fruit. On the other hand, you have a faith that says the right things and produces the fruit. James simply calls the first one dead and the second one alive.
Meeting a Friend
Now let’s meet the friend of God. We met the fool who thinks it’s possible to have faith and not have works. The friend is the person who has faith and works follow. He gives two examples, but we only have time to read the first one in James 2:20–23.
“Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works hwen he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.” (James 2:20–23 ESV)
We see how James sees faith and works coming together. Faith is active along with works. From this faith, works follow. For Abraham, this meant being obedient to God’s call in sacrificing his son, Isaac. So the friend of God is the one who has faith that is alive—that is, faith that produces fruit.
The Bible talks about this faith over and over again. Here are just a few examples:
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6 ESV)
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7–8 ESV)
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:34–35 ESV)
An Impossible Call
Feel the impossibility of the call. Where will we get this fuel?
Where is the strength going to come from in order to love like this? Where does James expect the works to come from? Does he expect that we would be able to do it on our own? No. These works are faith-driven works.
If there is a dead faith, then surely there is a faith that is alive. This faith is what Abraham had. It’s the faith that works itself out in love.
“I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18 ESV)
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 ESV)
There is faith that is alive, and it’s guaranteed to work! God gives the faith, the fuel, and we act the miracle of him working through us. Faith works. James points out the promise that true faith will actually love people. It will put into motion what was formerly impossible. So how does this work itself out?
“For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Colossians 1:29 ESV)
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13 ESV)
Care for One Another
God commands us to obey, specifically to care for one another. We can’t be the kind of people who sing on Sunday and then slander on Wednesday. Nor can we let what we hear on Sunday not affect our Monday.
The specific way we try to live this out at Table Rock is through our Life Groups. We want to truly carry each other’s burdens by meeting regularly and sharing life together. But we don’t want that to be theoretical. That’s why we focus on application in our Life Group discussions.
We want to actually drill down into the text and see how it can actually apply to our lives. We do that because we want to be the kind of people who have faith and then let that faith work itself out in obedience.
In summary, God calls his people to care for one another, and he promises he will make it happen. He is not going to leave us alone in our pursuit to care for one another. We must get up out of our seats and actually care for one another, but when we do, God promises to give us all we need to serve each other.