What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. - James 2:14-17I have heard this verse taught many times. We're supposed to take care of the poor, those who are unable to take care of themselves, etc. It's taken by the left to mean that we're supposed to steal from people to give their money to other people. It's taken by more conservative members of the Christian community to mean we're supposed to send aid to other countries, to places where people are starving and, maybe--in a pinch--to that homeless shelter down the street. In whatever way this idea manifests itself, there's always one thing that is central to it: we are, in some way, supposed to care for the less fortunate members of our own community.
It is odd, however, that the execution of this idea doesn't seem to extend to those people that are truly our brothers and sisters... that is, those people who sit next to us in the church pew, drift their way through our buildings, and then return to their homes. Many times, we're none the wiser about what our fellow Christians are going through. And, if we are, there's this sort of conversation:
"Sally and her husband are going through some real trouble. Joe's gonna have to have some surgery. They really need prayer."I have seriously heard exchanges almost exactly like this one many times in churches, between members of a Christian community. There seems to be this idea in America that, if we fall on hard times, the government will take care of us. After all, what are we paying taxes for? Surely the government can help out!
"They have those three kids, don't they? And a baby on the way?""Yeah. But I heard that there's a new government program; if they apply for it, they can get medical assistance, which should help them feed those kids."
"I'll pray they'll be able to get into that program, then. It would be a shame if they had to sell their house or ended up being homeless!"
And so, to all intents and purposes, we look at these brothers and sisters of ours and say, "hey, you know--I heard you were on hard times. I'm going to pray for you. Go on home now, and you stay warm and fed, alright?" And then we mosey on home to our Sunday afternoon dinners and our comfortable lives where, while there might be occasional hiccups in the smooth passage, we don't have to worry about breakfast tomorrow morning.
But aren't we sort of missing the point? Aren't we completely ignoring what James told us to do? Yes, there are many great charity programs that are run by churches. They feed a lot of people, both in America and out. Money is being constantly sent overseas to buy cornmeal, rice, and even meat for small schools and churches in African and Asian countries. Some of those people, yes, are our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we're ignoring the problems right under our noses. We're so busy with feeling spiritual--setting our Facebook status to a really great Bible verse, trying to raise awareness for our newest pet cause in Africa, campaigning to make abortion illegal--that we forget that without our faith manifesting itself into the physical realm, it means absolutely nothing.
There's a saying I once heard. I don't know who originally said it. It's probably as old as Christianity itself. But it's simply this: If you can't be a missionary at home first, you're not going to be an effective missionary elsewhere.
Until you start taking care of things close to home, you can't be an effective crusader for women's rights in Afghanistan. Until you are willing to help out a family in need that goes to your church, you can't be an effective volunteer at a food bank. Until you are actively living out the things you say you believe, it doesn't count for anything. God doesn't care about rhetoric; he cares about action.
Can it be difficult, thinking about making sacrifices for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Of course. Nobody ever said it would be easy. I'm sure that the people who were reading James' letter thought he was crazy. "What? He's saying we should all chip in like those crazy Christians in Antioch and have everything common and help each other? What about the poor people around us? What about them? Surely they can go find help elsewhere--they have families, support systems!"
But they didn't, and they don't. The Church was designed to be a support system. When the author of Acts talked about how the early Christians had "all things common", that's what he meant. He meant that they all chipped in when something was needed. But we've become so focused on our own needs, our wants, the things that are immediately in front of us, that all we can say to Christians who need help is, "Well, that sucks. I'm pretty sure the government runs a fund for losers like you...good luck. Go eat and keep your house warm this winter."
If a brother or sister...- Kyla Denae