Read time: 2m 57s
A big contribution The Letter of James makes to our faith, to a healthy understanding of the Christian life, and to the canon of Scripture, is how uncomfortable it makes us. Luther called it, "an epistle of straw." Many believers feel oddly about James, like it's either a regressive book too connected to Judaism, or it's somehow truer and more real with its "pull-no-punches" approach.
And indeed, James makes us uncomfortable: Where is there *active* obedience in our lives? "Faith without works is dead." (Jam 2:17, 27) This question stings me.
But, should it?
What are, as Paul writes, "the good works that God prepared before hand so that we might walk in them"? (Eph 2:11) If we put our noses back into the text, we find encouraging truths.
Push into Ephesians and find the place where Paul begins to define these "good works": Eph 4:17 and following. And the first time he mentions something *active*--that is, positive, pushing, forward-moving, works--is in Eph 4:28: "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need."
"Labor, doing honest work with his own hands"?!
We need to talk about "good works." We tend to think of religious activity, spiritual conversation, sacrificial giving, missions, church service, or other churchy things. Okay, we can usually include this stuff (but see 1 Cor 13:1-2).
But, these are not the first things that come to mind for the apostles when they define "Good Works." What does? Good work. Honest labor. Work that involves "hands." Work that is work.
Good work is "good works."
Cleaning house, driving safely, managing well, folding laundry, operating efficiently, filling out the forms properly--these can be good works of genuine faith. Baking bread, digging trenches, coupon clipping, taking care of clients, punctuality, answering the phone with good cheer, meeting deadlines--these can be good works of genuine faith.
(I say "can be" only because they can also not be. I mean, as alluded to above in 1 Corinthians 13, if a person can give all they own to the poor and it *not* be a good work of genuine faith, then it's possible to put away dishes and it not be a good work of genuine faith.)
The point in what I am saying is this: The Works that flow from Faith are not limited to "religio-churchish-soul-winning tactics and related fields", but rather are all those things we do to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, out of love for our heavenly Father. (Mt 22:37-40)
Summary: Faith works, yes it does. Its work is to love (Jm 2:8). Faith working through love; faith completed by works. (Gal 5:6; Jam 2:22) Faith loving our neighbors. And how do we love our neighbors? In a thousand ways, large and small.
Friends, God is working through you that which is pleasing to Him. He is. The Spirit is alive and well and working. So James's point still stands, but it is clarified. "Good Works" are not a separate category of "things to do" added to our lengthy lists. "Good Works" includes the work we do: our jobs, our duties, our avocations. In all of these things we may love God, our neighbor, and serve Jesus' mission. So work the work. Work those works as if they were from faith; and let them be so. Love by them. Pray in them. Hope for them.
"And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith." (Gal 6:9-10)