What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has loyalty/faith but does not have works?
In the last couple of posts I have been dealing rather broadly with the subject of faith. First we looked at the apparent contradiction between faith and intellectual humility, and then we examined the meaning of the New Testament words associated with faith
There is an important subtlety here that is easy to overlook. I am not simply suggesting that we replace the word faith, with the word loyalty. You will remember from last week I said words are not pins in a map but are more like nations. They cover areas of meaning. Words in one language rarely cover exactly the same area of meaning as words in another language.
This is the origin of the saying “all translators are lairs.” Remember that the English word “faith” does encompass the meaning of loyalty. Our problem is that it is only a minor component of the word, and is not immediately apparent in everyday use.
It is my contention that while there are cognitive aspects attached to the biblical words translated as faith and believe, this is not where the emphasis usually lies. In English faith is usually associated with believing something without proof. In Greek, the equivalent word, pistos (πιστός) carries a much stronger connotation of loyalty.
It is not uncommon to see faith and works pitted against each other, and many words have been spent trying to explain the apparent discrepancy between the words of James and Paul. I suspect that many of those apparent discrepancies will appear much less significant if we can learn to hear scripture with first century ears. Notice how different our opening passage sounds as we start to emphasize the loyalty aspects of pistos.
Faith/loyalty versus works
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has loyalty/faith but does not have works? Can that loyalty/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 loyalty/faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:14-17
As I prayed about what direction to take with this post I was concerned that I was getting too theoretical. It is all too easy to approach the christian life in purely cognitive terms. Our opening passage makes clear that what is in your head, or even your heart, does not profit unless it finds an outlet through your hands, feet, or other assets.
It was at this point that I received the following letter from a brother in Costa Rica, and decided it was more important than anything I had to say. It presents a stirring example of someone who is struggling to walk out their loyalty to King Jesus. Someone who has been wronged, and has the opportunity to excercise the arm of the flesh in righting that wrong. I wonder how many of us would find some way to justify taking that option. How many of us really believe/are loyal to, the words our king spoke in His Sermon on the Mount? There are certainly many commentaries which will tell you why you should not take our king’s words there too seriously.
More to the point, how many of us are prepared to suffer with our brother, and share his suffering due to his loyalty to our king. I set this letter before you in hopes that it will both inspire you, and cause you to examine your own life, as it has done for me. I want to challenge you to let your loyalty have legs. At the very least I expect that we can be in prayer against the powers which have come against our brother, but I suspect that I have readers whom our king will call to put legs to there loyalty in very tangible ways. But first it is time to read the letter:
A brother suffering because of his loyalty
In the center of this picture is a dear brother by the name of Juan Jimenez, locally known as Juan Carmen (or more affectionately as Carmelo). He is a fixture of the church at Santiago from years gone by. Some twenty years ago he relocated from here to the congregation at San Vito, south from here. Because of inward turmoil as well as church problems there he has not been a member of that church for quite some time, and in the process his two children have turned their backs on the Lord. But now he’s come back home… to Santiago. He and his wife have been members now for about two years. His easy going nature and dedication to the Lord have won him a warm place in the affections of the brotherhood here. It seems to us, too, like he’s come back home.
But life has not been easy for him the past twenty years.
Aside from repeatedly witnessing unbecoming situations in the Christian church, and struggling to accept the decisions of his children, and a lot of stress in home life, he has struggled financially. In a measure he has succeeded… with a mix of woodworking, dairying and setting up a small milk processing plant where he buys milk from local farmers and sells milk products, he has been able to stay on top.
But the other day the blow fell… his milk facility was inspected. He expected the inspection and was not worried because he has all his permits up to date. But the lady inspector wasn’t interested in his permits… she confiscated $12,000 worth of products on her whim. Though such a confiscation must legally follow a certain protocol, she did not follow legal procedures. Her actions were quite suspicious looking… what might she have up her sleeve? The local authorities desperately want Juan to get a lawyer and pursue a legal settlement. The odds are pretty good that he could recuperate his money. As brethren we leave that option open to Juan… all he would have to do is sign the paperwork that the confiscation did not follow legal procedures. But he would rather not do that. He says there are a lot of people watching him, and he wants to show a genuine Christian testimony.
But Juan is discouraged. It seems the props have fallen away from all sides. $12,000 is huge blow for him. We will be helping him with what we can, but if anyone would be interested in sharing a little of his loss, please contact me and I will facilitate a transfer to him.
Will we let our brother suffer for his loyalty alone?
I wrote my friend James, and he has given me permission to share this letter. I want to urge you to write him and share with him how you are praying and how you believe you are to help. With all the atrocities being carried out by our enemy in the world, this may seem trivial. What is impressive to me is that this brother is choosing to suffer rather than take action he understands could very well alleviate his suffering, but which he understands is contrary to our Lord’s instructions.
I know that some of you reading this don’t agree with him, and think he is foolish not to take advantage of the legal recourses he has available. I will address this issue in the future, but right now think the issue is irrelevant. The issue for him and for us is not our understanding, for that is not what saves us. The issue is loyalty, and there can be no doubt that our brother Juan is walking it out. Are you not willing to do the same? Loyalty without works is dead.
You may contact James Troyer via his email which is crforthekingdom at gmai… He too is a loyal brother in our king who can be trusted to deliver to Juan whatever message or gift our Lord leads you to share.
For the king,