Helping the Physical Needs (James 2:15-16) ~ A Daily Devotion for January 22, 2014

“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?” ~ James 2:15-16

Explanation of the Text: James backs up his previous question regarding faith without works by giving a hardhearted example of faith without works. It is the example of a heartless reaction by a person that lacks compassion. This becomes a comparison between faith without works and words of compassion without acts of compassion.[1]

In Luke 10:30-35 Jesus told the people a parable of the good Samaritan. The parable is that of a man who was robbed, beaten, and left to the side of the road, presumably so that death could overtake him. While laying there, both a priest and a Levite passed by the man without offering any kind of help. Then a Samaritan passed by and had compassion, or as was said at the conclusion of chapter 5, the Samaritan ‘suffered together with this man’ and in doing so not only cared for the wounds of the man but also paid for a place to stay for the man. “Jesus’ introduction of the Samaritan was thus devastating. In view of the traditional bitterness between Jew and Samaritan, a Samaritan was the last person who might have been expected to help. But this man had compassion on the sufferer. He attended to him as best he could on the spot.”[2] Taking care of others is an obligation for followers of Jesus Christ. James knew and recognized this.

It is interesting to note the Greek word used for lack is λείπω (leípō) and is the same verse that is used in regards to the believer who lacks wisdom in James 1:5. “The poor needs more than mere words; so does the believer who needs the saving act and wisdom of God. A word of blessing without an act of blessing is like the promise of salvation without the saving act of God in Christ.”[3] As it brought joy to reconcile sinners unto himself, it should also bring every believer joy to share that blessing with others. That joy can be found both in sharing the Gospel and also in helping people to meet their physical needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing. Meeting the physical needs should also lead to meeting the spiritual needs by sharing the Gospel. Helping others, though it may be an obligation, should be a joyful opportunity. What good is a person’s faith if it is not practiced through obedient action?

Examination & Application of the Text:  What does it say about a person who says they believe in the Lord Jesus Chris and accepts all of his teachings of the law, which include love your neighbor, and yet fails to show that faith by outward action? Should not a person who claims to be a disciple in Jesus Chris show it by obedience to Him?

Knowing commands from the teachings of Christ, James uses this example to further instill the point that he was making. Through the example, James calls on believers to not be like the priest of the Levite found in the Luke passage, but instead to be like the Samaritan. True concern and care are demonstrated by one’s actions and in this case, if a person comes lacking food and clothing, the believer should fill those needs, not simply offer a comforting word. This does not mean one should not have compassion or sympathy; these are valuable characteristics if that is all a person has available to offer, but here James seems to indicate here that they had the means to do something more, something that would help meet the physical needs.[4]

What have you done today to outwardly show your relationship with Jesus Christ? Can people see by the way you live that Jesus Christ lives in you? May this be the prayer of our lives, that people do not see us, but rather see the work of Jesus Christ in us, come to a relationship with Him, and ultimately glorify the one, true God. The best way to do this is by showing compassion on those that you come in contact with on a daily basis. Like the Samaritan in Luke or the call James gives here, pour into the lives of those around you by taking care of their physical needs. Not only will doors be opened to share, but there will be a great joy in being able to serve our Lord in this manner. There are no words that convey the feelings of knowing that you are helping others.


[1] John MacArthur Jr, James, MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), 126.

[2] Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 208.

[3] Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 130–131.

[4] Thomas D. Lea, Hebrews, James, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 286.

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