What does James 2:16 mean?
ESV: 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?
NIV: If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
NASB: and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
CSB: and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed," but you don't give them what the body needs, what good is it?
NLT: and you say, 'Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well' — but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
KJV: 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?
James is building an illustration to flesh out the answer to his question in verse 14. His question was whether or not a so-called-"faith" which produces no good works was a saving faith. Critically, we should note that James is not asking whether or not doing good works is a requirement for salvation. He is speaking only of faith, but from the standpoint of what faith results in, in the life of the one who claims it.
In verse 15, James proposed an analogy: seeing a fellow Christian lacking food and clothing.
Here in verse 16, he continues the thought. Suppose another Christian offers that needy brother or sister warm words but nothing else. They express an emotion, or a belief, or a "faith," in the well-being of that person, but do nothing in the real world about it.
The words James quotes were probably a normal, everyday phrase used in polite conversation, similar to "have a nice day," in the modern world. Looked at another way, James might be describing an insensitive brush off. Telling someone with no access to food or clothing that you "wish them" to be warmed and filled and to go away with peace is the opposite of helpful. It is deeply hurtful. It's even worse to say it to a family member, a brother or sister in Christ.
This brings up the point James is making about the relationship between the "faith" a person claims, and the "faith" a person actually has. If someone says they want to see a hungry person fed, but does nothing to feed them, do they actually want to see them fed? The hard truth is, no, deep down, they don't. Because if they really wanted to see it, they'd act on those beliefs.
James pointedly asks: what good is that kind of works-less sentiment? It is clearly no good. In the next verse, James will expand this into a larger point that faith—a mere claim to belief, as he is using the word—without works is dead. At the same time, James is echoing his recent command to care for the needs of the poor, rather than favoring the rich.
The point James makes is clear: what we do is a clear indication of what we actually believe. The person who says they want to see a poor man helped, but who does not help them, doesn't really want to help. In the same way, a person who claims to have saving faith in Christ, but who does not act accordingly, does not actually have saving faith.
James 2:14–26 makes the case that how one acts—their ''works''—are a sign of the kind of ''faith'' they possess. So-called-''faith'' which doesn't lead a person to participate in good works is not a saving faith; it is a dead thing. It is pointless and meaningless to believe, or ''wish,'' a poverty-stricken person to be well, if such an opinion leads to no action. In exactly the same way, James insists that it is not enough to mentally agree about certain facts of God. If what a person believes about God does not lead them to act accordingly, then their ''faith'' is not saving faith. It is merely opinion. James never says that faith is not essential for salvation. He never claims works are required to obtain or keep salvation. He is, however, crystal clear that truly saving faith cannot be separated from the evidence of good works.
Genuine saving faith in God leads to good and loving actions: ''works.'' In chapter 1, James discussed the importance of acting on the words of God, not merely hearing them. Favoritism to the rich over the poor demonstrates a lack of faith. In fact, this is a sin. Following up on these ideas, James insists that ''faith'' which doesn't result in good works is dead. Such belief is merely intellectual agreement. It is not trust, or true, biblical saving faith. James doesn't deny that belief in God is essential to salvation, nor does he claim that works are necessary to obtain salvation. Rather, he makes the case that works are to faith what the breath is to the body: a sign of life. A ''faith'' without works is like a body without breath: dead.
In chapter 1, James taught that a saving belief in God changes how a Christian looks at trials in their lives. It affects where they turn for help, and who they credit for good. Believers hear the Word and do it. In this chapter, James insists that our faith in God should keep us from showing favoritism to the rich and powerful on earth and should provoke us to love our poor neighbors as ourselves. He also makes the case that so-called-''faith'' which does not result in works, is not saving faith, at all. Despite controversy, this does not clash with Paul's view of salvation by grace alone. James refers to good works as an expected outcome of salvation, not the source of it. In the following chapters, he will continue to show what a life of genuine faith looks like.
The book of James is about specifically understanding what saving faith looks like. How does faith in Christ reveal itself in a believer's life? What choices does real trust in God lead us to make? Those are the questions James answers. Most scholars believe the writer was Jesus' half-brother, a son born to Joseph and Mary after Jesus' birth. James may not have come to believe Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrection. Eventually, though, he became one of the leaders of the Christian church in Jerusalem. This is possibly the earliest-written of all the New Testament books, around AD 40–50. James addresses his letter to Jewish Christians scattered around the known world.
Accessed 11/30/2023 4:54:20 AM
© Copyright 2002-2023 Got Questions Ministries. All rights reserved.
Text from ESV, NIV, NASB, CSB, NLT, KJV © Copyright respective owners, used by permission.