October 26, 2014
Faith is What I Do
I read a book a few years ago about finances for the Christian. One important point the author makes is that we as believers must plan financially so that we will have funds to share with those in need. We are to manage our income and expenses to that we may set aside money to be used for God’s purposes – to support our church and to care for others. God will bless us as we manage our resources in line with what God wants. Helping others is part of what God commands.
This is also what James has to say to us. Faith to be real is to be lived in caring for others. Faith means nothing if our lives do not demonstrate faith through concrete actions. James asks, “What good is it if one claims to have faith but has no deeds?” He says, “Can such faith save him?” I’m sure you know the answer.
James writes, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food.” James doesn’t say “someone” but he goes right to the heart of relationships – a brother or sister. Like the closest family tie, we have a connection with a person in need. Faith puts a face on that person. You are my brother. You are my sister. The same care we would give to a member of our immediate family is the care we are to offer to another.
Words are good, but James reminds us that actions are better. To say I wish you well, and I want you to be warm and well fed incurs on us an obligation to follow words with action. He says in verse 26: As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
When we enter into a relationship with God through our savior Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us, giving us a piece of God to help and encourage us. Paul writes in Ephesians that we are saved by grace, and this is God’s gift to us. Faith is our trust we put in God. We believe God knows best and that God sent us Jesus to reclaim us. We believe in the truth of God’s word in the Bible. Faith is active – it develops our character and enables us to follow God’s commands. James wants us to be doers in faith – to control our speech, not show favoritism, and care for others.
This is what God tells us through his word. We are God’s workmanship, and we have been created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. God has a vision of what our lives in faith will look like, the kinds of things we will do, and how we can help others. It is up to us to use the talents we have been given or what capabilities we have received to do these good works.
Faith is good, but responding to God in faith is only the beginning. Faith is not about me and my God as if there was no one else in the world. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 about love – love looks outward and is expressed through actions of kindness, patience, sensitivity, compassion and the like. Love is not about me, but about how I treat those I love.
It is written in 1 John that love is why Jesus laid down his life for us. His concrete action has put us in a different relationship with God. In grateful response, John says we should lay down our lives for a brother or sister. He writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
So it is with faith – we come to faith, not merely for our own sake or for our own salvation, but to find ways to bless others as we have been blessed. God wants us to be the means to help others find what blessings we have found. We come to faith and join with others who are part of a community of faith in the body of Christ. Together we endeavor to meet needs within the community where we live.
Those who work, do so to support their families. Those who are retired seek to use resources well to honor God and meet one’s financial obligations. However we work, Paul writes that we should work with all our heart, as if we were working for the Lord. We will receive an inheritance beyond any earthly riches, because our primary responsibility is to serve God.
James says that if a brother or sister has a need and we are able to meet that need but choose not to, our faith is worth nothing. James was talking about basic necessities of life – people who need clothing or daily food. In the city of Cleveland, over 50% live in poverty, which is defined as a family of three living on less than $19 thousand a year. This is what a full-time worker in a minimum wage job would earn. I can’t imagine how a single mother with two young children could feed, house and clothe her family on less than $300 take home pay per week, even assuming she could get a full-time job with health care benefits.
My purpose today is not for you to leave here feeling guilty. Any person with half a conscience will struggle sometimes with feeling there must be more I can do. We need to apply some intelligence to our giving. There are so-called charitable organizations that spend the greater percentage of your giving dollar on promotions, executive salaries or daily operations, leaving little for the actual mission. I saw online several sites that evaluate the effectiveness of charities – Charity Navigator is one. We should consider whether an organization is worth the money we give, so we do not allow ourselves to be sucked into giving to an unworthy cause through an emotional response.
I appreciate the methodology Mary Lou Morgan uses for anyone who is helped by the Good Samaritan Fund of this church. No cash is given directly to the person in need. If a woman comes in needing help with a utility bill, she gives Mary Lou a copy of that bill, so that a check may be sent to the address of the utility. If a man needs gas, Mary Lou will direct him to a local gas station, where she calls ahead and okays the person filling up to a certain dollar amount. We support local food banks, where people can receive needed groceries.
I think the point is that Jesus is calling us to serve as Jesus was himself a servant. How you serve may be different from another person’s service, and the amount you can give is different from someone else, but we are all asked to serve as a reflection of our faith.
You may wish to give more generously, but feel trapped by too many expenses. Your income has been allocated, leaving little left for giving. There may be expenses you can’t change at this point in your life. We have two more years after this year to help get our daughters through college. You may have a mortgage or medications that take a big chunk of your budget. That’s reality.
Any one of us makes decisions about our priorities for giving. Supporting one’s church should come from more than any leftover funds, because our offering is a form of giving thanks to God. As God has blessed you, so you want to be a blessing to others. It has been said that we can’t outgive God, but we can start where we are to make a difference for someone else.
I pray that you will talk to God about how you can give, and the things you can do that show another your faith is real. We cannot ignore needy people, and we cannot be anything but a church that is eager to care for others in need. By what we do and how we love, we show the world that faith makes a difference. This is our act of worship, in being faithful to God’s teachings and living them out to enrich the lives of others.