by Bob Allen:
Words, words, and more words.
I find myself increasingly despising them.
Terrible injustice mars the world. Rampant anger fuels division. Each day, new occurrences of violence sprout among the downtrodden. Anguish rules as people speak compassionately. But therein lies the problem. Our mouths pour out effusive words of sorrow and grief. Our eyes may even drip saline. Do our hearts burn for justice? Do our gloomy countenances replace hands willing to get dirty? Do our mournful sobs and furrowed brows stir us to action? Or do we pass by, praying for people to be well, to have hope, to climb out of their pits?
There are few passages of scripture that convict my heart like James chapter 2.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (Ja. 2:14-17)
James’ indictment of the wealthy and influential whose “blessing” is merely well wishing wasted on withered and weary souls resonates with the message of the prophets, condemning those who have turned their backs on the underprivileged, the hungry, the huddled masses yearning for comfort and justice. Drawing forward a couple of millennia, the message reverberates, amplified as the disparity between the haves and have-nots grows seemingly with each rotation of the earth.
God’s people today are no different than God’s people in antiquity.
We are no less selfish; we are no less greedy; we are no less blessed; we are no less focused on our own needs; we are no less shamed by what we have when we see what others do not. Short-term mission trips often have greater impact on the goers than on the receivers. Why? Because people suddenly realize how much they have, they begin to see the destitution around them in comparison to their relative prosperity. And when asked about the trip and the reception of the gospel message, people gush about “God moving” and “the kingdom growing”. When asked what it would take for such a movement in our own community, the response evokes concern, “We are not nearly desperate enough.”
It breaks me in two.
We travel to other contexts, bringing this message of hope to people and places we are certain are far less affluent. We serve the impoverished, building houses and medical clinics and schools. We do it in the name of Christ, AND WE SHOULD! But the needs aren’t just in a far away land.
We seem to overlook the broken families, the poverty, the pennilessness in our own backyards in order to run to the “truly” lost cause, the ones who have never heard the name of Jesus. We don an air that says, “Surely, these people can find the help they need. All they need to do is ask for it in the right place.” We worry that our help will be abused, that we are enabling the down-on-their-lucks to remain so. We tell ourselves, “They’ve gotten themselves into this situation and they just need to figure out how to work their way out of it.” So our eyes see sloth not hopelessness; willfulness not brokenness. We choose to reach out with our words, saying, “Peace to you. Turn to God,” speaking platitudes and exhortations yet leaving stomachs empty.
James 2 is a descriptive passage, not a prescriptive one, which highlights hypocrisy amongst the highfalutin, but I cannot help but weep at the state of much of American Christendom. We say we are a people of faith; we claim our status as God’s chosen and elect; our words convince us we are right with God while our actions betray that confidence. We are not the royal priesthood God has called us to be if we aren’t ministering to others on behalf of God.
Let us repent from our dead words. Let us reach out into the world with more than utterances of blessing. Let us go to those in need, sharing the gospel, yes, but seeking to show them God’s love for them by providing for them what they cannot provide for themselves. As God has provided for us so great a salvation, which we neither earned nor deserved, let us also carry that message of hope, with our hands as well as our tongues, to the hopeless.
It is the evidence of a faith alive rather than a lifeless faith.