THE RICH CAN BE ROTTEN – James 5:1-6

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INTRODUCTION:

As James writes this letter, it seems as though he has a stack of issues and complaints that have been brought to him for consideration and response.  Now he comes to an issue that is “written in bold letters and highlighted in red”!  He uses  some fiery language here in his response to the rich people among his readers and listeners.  If you are a wealthy person yourself, don’t take these words of his personally until you understand the context!  James is disappointed in them and he disapproves of their actions.  He is not condemning wealth, but he is condemning some of the ways that they have gained that wealth, and the ways they have misused it.

In order to understand what is going on, and why it is so wrong, we will have to leave our twenty-first century technology and see things through the minds of his first-century readers.  As we will soon see, technology has changed, but people haven’t!

It’s interesting to note that some Bible commentators skip this passage of Scripture, and some others just make a quick note of it and press on.  The passage doesn’t seem to fit well into the context of what James has said before it and after it.  Let’s proceed and see if we can make any sense out of it!

I.  WASTING THEIR WEALTH (verses 1-3)

In verse one of chapter 5, he addresses the “rich”.  These are the “filthy rich” – they have so many possessions that they can’t possibly use them all.  They had gained those riches unjustly and were using them selfishly.  James tells them to “weep”, “wail” (scream), now, in an attitude of true repentance before they are taken out of this world and will be weeping and wailing for eternity in Hell.  These rich people to whom James is making his appeal are not Christians.  Their actions in disobedience to God’s Word make their spiritual condition obvious.  That’s why the suffering and judgment he is referring to is eternal.  So I do not believe that James is condemning them.  He is condemning their actions and warning them of the eternal consequences.  The word translated “wail” or “howl” in verse one is the Greek word “ololuzontes”.  The word is called an onomatopoeia – a word that sounds like its meaning.  Try saying the word “ololuzontes” outloud yourself a couple of times.  Say it loud enough for a congregation of people to hear it clearly.  If somebody hears you, you may get the response, “What are you whining about?”  This is the only time that this particular word is used in the New Testament.  I believe James chose this word intentionally under the inspiration of God.  He wanted any “filthy rich” person who might be in the congregation, on the Sunday that his letter was read aloud, to hear what it would sound like if he didn’t let the Lord Jesus Christ have control of his life and his wealth.

In verse 2, James says to the rich, “your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten.”  In this country, we measure wealth by dollars and cents, and by holdings that can be converted into dollars and cents.  Here, James is speaking of riches in grain and clothing.  For the poor in those times, food was a matter of life and death.  The prophet Micah said that the withholding of food from the poor was the equivalent of cannibalism (Micah 3:2-3).  For the poor, clothing was also a basic necessity.  However, for the rich it was a way of showing off their wealth.  Some of the rich had so many garments that many of them were never worn and became “food for the moths”.  I guess they didn’t have mothballs or use cedar chests back in those days!  The sad thing was that these rich people didn’t care!  They would rather have their food and clothing go bad than contribute to the needs of the poor!  They turned down the joy and blessing that they would have received from their generosity.  No wonder their lives were so empty and miserable!

You may have heard this illustration, but it may be useful to hear it again.  One day a certain old, rich man of a miserable disposition visited a rabbi, who took the rich man by the hand and led him to a window.  “Look out there.  What do you see?”, asked the rabbi.  “I see men, women, and children”, answered the rich man.  Again the rabbi took him by the hand and this time led him to a mirror.  “Now what do you see?”  “Now I see myself”, the rich man replied.  Then the rabbi said, “Behold, in the window there is glass, and in the mirror there is glass.  But the glass of the mirror is covered with a little silver, and no sooner is the silver added, than you cease to see others, but you see only yourself.”  The Lord Jesus called this phenomenon “the deceitfulness of riches” (Mark 4:19)

Citicorp Bank ran a series of billboards about money.  One said:  “Money changes hands – just don’t let it change the rest of you!  (DB August 2010)

Verse 3 reflects the words of Jesus in His Semon on the Mount:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Matthew 6:19-21)

In verse 3, James says to his readers:  “Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire.  It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure.”  The  word translated “rusted” here, means “to rust down” or “to corrode”.  Gold and silver, wealth that we may consider to be indestructable, is going to be destroyed, and those who trust in them will be destroyed also.  Like rust or corrosion, your lust for riches will eat away at your souls!

I beiieve that James is not only giving them a graphic description of their riches, but he is also making an urgent plea to them.  “Take a good look at your possessions!  Observe the rotting grain in your storehouses; make note of the moth holes on the clothes in your closets; observe the rust or corrosion on your gold and silver!  It’s all plain to see!  They are a witness before your eyes, and they are a witness against you before the eyes of God also!  Take heed and repent of your selfishness and greed, and give the Lord Jesus Christ His rightful place as Ruler of your lives before it’s too late!  You can’t take it with you beyond the grave, but you will suffer for it throughout eternity because God is your witness, and it has all been written down!

“And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne,and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. . . . And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  (Revelation 20:12,15)

ii.  DEPRIVING LABORORS OF HARD-EARNED WAGES (verse 4)

 In verse 4, James gives further proof of their selfishness, this time in their dealings with the laborers who worked in their grain fields.  These were called “day laborers”.  They received their pay at the end of each day, and their pay was barely enough to meet their basic needs.  The wealthy landlords had the money to pay them.  Yet they knowingly and willfully disobeyed God’s Law, which says, “You shall not oppress the hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns.”  (Deuteronomy 24:14-15 NASB)

This next passage of Scripture is even more specific about paying the laborers:  “The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.”  (Leviticus 19:13 NASB).  In other words, they were to pay their laborers when the day’s work was done, and before those laborers went home for the day.

Have you ever been a “day laborer” – harvesting a crop?  If so, I’ll bet you have some stories to tell!  My brother and I got a taste of it, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience!  We were looking for work and saw a newspaper ad saying, “Grape-pickers wanted”.  We arrived at the address at daybreak, and saw an old bus pulling out and a large group of men standing around.  While we were walking over to them, another old bus arrived, full of men.  These were migrant farm-workers, brought in from tenement houses nearby, and the only one who spoke English was the foreman!  Large buckets were handed out and the work began!  These were wine grapes on high trellises, and there were miles of them . . . the dust, the heat, the flies, bees, wasps, and, worst of all, the spider webs and spiders!  At lunch-break my brother said “I’ve had enough!”, and I was quick to agree.  We talked to the foreman and he told us what time to return at the end of the day and pick up our pay.  We could afford to do that, but all those migrant workers needed the money to survive and feed their families.  They were paid by the bucket, not by the hour, so they had to work hard and fast to fill as many bucket-fulls of grapes as possible by the end of the day.  It was no “picnic”, believe me!  If you’ve ever read John Steinbeck’s book, “The Grapes of Wrath”, you would have an image of what it must have been like to be a “day laborer” moving from field to field during harvest season.

Here in verse 4, in order to get the grain harvested and put away, the laborers had to work from dawn til dusk.  The rich land-owners promised to pay their laborers a certain amount at the end of the day.  The tense of the verb “withheld” indicates that those laborers would probably never get their hard-earned wages.  There is a clear application for each of us in this verse.  We ought to pay our bills, and pay them on time!

James has more to say to these wealthy Jewish land-owners.  They think that they are going to get away with this unfairness, but James warns them that their day is going to come.  He uses a very familiar passage in the book of Genesis to get his point across to them.  When James says, “the pay . . . which has been withheld by you, cries out against you”, he is reminding them of God’s words to Cain after he had killed his brother Abel and then buried his body.  He must have thought that he had committed the “perfect crime”.  But God said to Cain:  “Where’s Abel your brother? . . . What have you done?  The voice of your brother’s blood cries to Me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:9-10)  Then God pronounced a curse on Cain.

James ends verse 4 by saying, “the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the Lord of Sabaoth.”  God is watching, and God is listening to the prayers of these laborers.  The phrase “Lord of Sabaoth” or “Lord of Hosts” pictures God as powerful, invincible, and the Leader of a great army.  Ladies  and gentlemen, there are no “perfect crimes”, at least not in God’s sight, and He will bring judgment in His time!

III.  THERE WILL BE CONSEQUENCES, AND YOU KNOW IT! (verse 5)

As James brings this rebuke and warning to the unrighteous rich people to a close in verses 5 and 6, I detect a note of sadness and sorrow in his words.  Do you?These wealthy land-owners know how to over-feed their chickens in order to get more breast-meat.  They know how to feed their cattle with the best grains, as much as they will eat, in order to get more steaks.  They are “preparing those animals for slaughter”!  James is saying, “Can’t you see that you are doing to yourselves the same thing that you are doing to your livestock?”

James wants them to take a good look at themselves.  They are living a life of luxury, satisfying their own desires and lusts.  They fit Ezekiel’s description of the city of Sodom in Ezekiel 16:49.  “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”

IV.  YOUR ONLY HOPE (verse 6)

In verse 6 James brings his rebuke and warning to these wealthy, selfish, unbelieving Jews to a conclusion.  Throughout his epistle the apostle James has phrased his words in such a way as to bring to mind Old Testament passages of Scripture that would be familiar to his readers and listeners.  Remember that these rich Jews had also been taught the Scriptures by their parents when they were little children.  They faithfully attended the synagogues with their families, hearing the Scriptures being taught by the rabbis and other teachers of the Law.  Many of these sons of the wealthy may also have attended rabbinical schools for further training. Their parents wanted them to have the best education available at that time.

I can imagine that there were many rich Jews of all ages who hated the Lord Jesus Christ because He spoke many times publicly against the misuse of riches (eg. Mt. 19; Luke 6, 16).  His parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus must have set the hearts of many wealthy Jews against him.  It makes me wonder whether some of his rich listeners were also among those in Pilate’s courtyard yelling “Crucify, crucify Him” (Luke 23:21).  Here is the literal translation of James 5:6 from the Greek:  “You condemned, you murdered the righteous man.  He does not resist you.”  These words immediately bring to my mind the words of the prophet Isaiah:  “Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7).  These wealthy Jews knew this passage of Scripture.  They heard it at home, in the synagogue, and at the temple worship services, and they had studied it in school.  They also knew the last words of that chapter, which reads, “Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.”  I believe that many, if not all, of these selfish, wealthy Jews were standing at a distance, watching the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.  They wouldn’t want to miss this event!  If so, they probably heard, or were told about, this prayer that Jesus uttered on the cross:  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

We don’t know for sure if this was James’ intent when he wrote the words of verse 6, but we do know that God always forgives those who truly repent of their sins, recognize that those sins were paid for by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, and let Him reign as Lord of their lives.  Whether rich, poor, or in-between, that is what brings meaning, purpose, and joy to one’s life.  Can you attest to the truth of those words in your own life?  I sincerely hope so!

 

 

 

 

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION!   PROCEED WITH ENTHUSIASM!

Thanks for coming to this “construction site!  This particular site is almost complete.  The foundation, walls and roof are in place, The finishing work is almost over, and a couple of illustrations have been nailed to the inside walls.  It’s time to begin a new construction project at “the vacant lot next door”!   I’m  getting ready to study James 5, beginning at verse 7.  You and I are also a “work in progress”, and until we leave this earth, there will always be work to be done.  More will be added to this study piece-by-piece very soon.  I hope you will be studying along with me in James, Chapter 5.    If this is your first visit, please also read my post entitled “A WORK IN PROGRESS” to gain a better understanding of my reasons for using this approach.  Please also check out my ABOUT PAGE to find out more about me.  If you would like to leave a comment or ask a question, I would enjoy hearing from you.

TRUE WISDOM IS WITHOUT HYPOCRISY – James 3:17 (continued)

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I’ve spent a lot of time studying and pondering this next attribute of heavenly wisdom.  It has been a very eye-opening and convicting study for me.  I hope and pray it will have the same effect on you also as you read and consider it.  The apostle James, here in verse 17, states that wisdom from above is “without hypocrisy”.  In order to understand this description we must first have a clear concept of what a hypocrite is.

“Hypocrite” is a Greek word which literally means “under a mask”.  It was used in the Greek culture to describe an actor on a stage.  In the ancient theaters each actor played several parts.  To change identities he would simply wear a different mask.  This was the word that Jesus used to describe the Jewish leaders.  Over and over again in the Gospels, especially Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus called them hypocrites.  No sin was so sternly denounced by Jesus as that of hypocrisy.  In Matthew 23 Jesus called them “blind guides”, “white washed tombs”, and “vipers”.  He used the strongest possible language of condemnation.

William Barclay asked the question:  “What were the things which incurred the anger of Jesus?”  The first thing he mentions is:  “Jesus was angry with anyone who was a hypocrite.”  The following are some further exerpts from William Barclay’s comments.  “A hypocrite is a man who says one thing with his lips, and quite another in his heart , , , . The man who is one thing to your face and quite another behind your back, the man who is ostensibly pious on Sunday and completely worldly on Monday, the man who professes a religion of love and of service, and who lives a life of bitterness and selfishness – that is the man who incurred the anger of Jesus (Day by Day with William  Barclay).

Let’s not forget that the first hypocrite described in the Bible was Satan.  He disguised himself as a serpent when he tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God.  When we act like a hypocrite we are acting like him, following his example.  II Corinthians 11:14 says that he “disguishes himself as an angel of light”, when he’s really the prince of darkness.

Do we sometimes put on a performance in order to win the applause or approval of others?  Most of us like to “look good”, don’t we?  We like to look good on the outside, and we like to give the impression that we “look good” on the inside.  A seminary professor once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Jesus is coming!  Look Busy!”  He later warned his students about the dangers of “faking it” – pretending to be something we are not.

One way Christians wear a mask is by not sharing their weaknesses, thereby giving the impression that they don’t have any weaknesses.  A close look at their lives will soon show that to be untrue.  And even if people don’t see it, God sees it.  We can’t fool Him!

We sometimes give in to the temptation that we have it all together, don’t we? But a person with wisdom from above recognizes that he has imperfections, struggles, fears, and temptations, and is honest before God and before others.  Such people are sincere, transparent, authentic, genuine, open, and reliable.  As the saying goes, “What you see is what you get.”  There are no “unpleasant surprises”.  They can be trusted because they are not motivated by pride but by obedience to God and love for others.  They are more concerned about pleasing God than impressing people.

Are you happy with the way you look on the outside?  What about the inside? Jesus makes it very clear in Matthew 6:16, “Don’t be like the hypocrites”!

Dr. M.R. DeHaan of the Radio Bible Class Ministries says:  “The biggest hypocrite of all, however, is the man or woman who refuses to come to Christ because there are so many hypocrites in the church.  Such a person is being inconsistent.  Business is full of hypocrites, but that does not stop him from doing business.  Society is full of them, but he does not decide to become a hermit.  Hell is full of hypocrites, so if a person doesn”t like hypocrites he had better make sure he’s not going there.”  There’s no bigger hypocrite than the person who pretends that he doesn’t need Jesus.

Our lives are on display, like the ads in the newspaper.  Who is being advertized in your life?  Is the Lord Jesus Christ being advertized on the front page and on every other page of your life?  Jesus wants “top billing”, not  “honorable mention”.

The Coca-cola company used the following slogan in a song about the quality of their product:  “What the world wants today is the real thing.”  I hope that’s true of our world today – that more and more people are seeking the real thing.  If so, let’s be the “real thing” ourselves, not cheap imitations.  Let’s reflect the character and the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ to our world today.  That’s what the Spirit of God will do in and through us if we’ll get out of His way and allow Him to take control.  Are you ready and willing?

 

 

 

 

 

THE RIGHT KIND OF FAITH – James 2:14-26

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INTRODUCTION:

Someone has said that faith is not “believing in spite of the evidence, but obeying in spite of the consequences”.  When we read Hebrews 11, we meet men and women who acted upon God’s Word, no matter what the price they had to pay.  Faith is not some kind of feeling that we work up, but a confidence that God’s Word is true, and that obeying it will bring God’s blessing.  What kind of faith really saves a person?  Is it necessary to perform good works in order to be saved?  How can a person tell whether or not he is exercising true saving faith?  James answers these questions by explaining to us that there are three kinds of faith, and only one of them is true saving faith.

I.  DEAD FAITH (verses 14-17)

In verses 14-17, James talks about dead faith.  People with dead faith substitute words for actions.  They know all the right words to say during times of prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their actions do not measure up to their talk.

James gives a simple illustration:  a poor believer came into a fellowship without proper clothing and in need of food.  The person with dead faith noticed the visitor and saw his needs, but he did not do anything to meet those needs.  All he did was say a few pious words:  “Go in peace, be warm and be filled.”  But the visitor went out just as hungry and unclothed as he came in!

In verse 14, James is saying, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  What kind?  The kind of faith that is never seen in practical works.  The answer is “No”!  Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration.  What kind of faith is dead faith?  In verse 17, James says “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”  True saving faith can never be by itself.  It always brings life, and life produces good works.

In a Decision Magazine article, missionary Patrick Harris tells of his son David, who was brain-damaged.  When David was very young and his family was home on furlough, many people told them, “We are praying for David.”  Patrick and his wife were grateful.  But one woman said, “I have Wednesday off.  Give me the privilege of taking David out that day to relieve you.”  Harris said, “That was what was needed – not only prayer but practical help!”  An important part of praying is a willingness to be part of the answer.

II.  DEMONIC FAITH (verses 18-19)

Only God can see “faith” in the heart of a person.  People see our faith only by our works. Faith is like a seed planted in the ground.  It is hidden from view, but if it is a living seed it will soon manifest itself by pushing its stalk up through the soil for all to see.  Out of the war comes a story of faith in action.  A godly chaplain in the army found a dying soldier on the battlefield, and being anxious about his salvation, he took out his Bible and said, “Shall I read a portion of Scripture for you?”  But the soldier replied, “No sir, I am thirsty and need a drink of water.”  At the risk of his own life, amid bursting shells, the chaplain went in search of water, and having found some, gave it to the wounded man.  Then he asked again, “Shall I read some Scripture to you?”  But the man replied, “No thank you, I am so cold.  I am almost freezing,”  The chaplain removed his own coat and wrapped it around about him, and once more asked with shivering and chattering teeth, “Now may I read to you?”  Again the reply was, “No sir, I am too uncomfortable on this rough ground.”  The chaplain gently lifted him up and placed him across his knees with his head in his arms and once more asked the same question.  “Yes sir”, he replied, “for if what you are going to read can make a man willing to risk his own life like this to ease a dying stranger, I want to hear about it!”  And there on the battlefield he was told about Jesus who died that he might live.  This is the gospel in action!  This is what the world is looking for today!

Then James says in verse 19, “the demons also believe and shudder.”  It comes as a shock to many people that demons have faith!  What do they believe?  For one thing, they believe in the existence of God.  They are not atheists.  They also believe in the deity of Christ.  Whenever they met Christ when He was on this earth, they bore witness that He was the Son of God.  They also believe in the existence of a place of punishment.  They live there!  Not only that, but they also recognize Jesus Christ as the Judge, and they submit to the power of His Word.  Yet, knowing all that, they still rebelled against God and were condemned to hell.

In verse 19, the word “shudder” or “tremble” meant to be “rough on the surface”, “to bristle”.  It has the idea of making your hair stand on end and goose bumps to appear. That’s the way the demons respond to God and to His Son, Jesus Christ!

III.  GENUINE FAITH (verses 20-26)

Dead faith touches only the mind; demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions; but genuine faith also involves the will.  The whole person plays a part in true saving faith. The mind understands the truth, the emotions desire the truth, and the will acts upon the truth.  Faith and works go together.

Pastor John MacArthur says it very clearly in his sermon entitled “Living Faith” (www.gty.org/resources/sermons/59-16/living-faith).  Preaching about James 2:21-26, Pastor MacArthur says:  “There is a faith in God, there is a faith in Christ, there is a belief of Scripture, there is a belief of the gospel that does not save from hell. . . . It is possible to believe in God, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to even believe that what Christ did He actually did, to affirm the cross and the resurrection and never be delivered from sin and never be given eternal life.  This is what James would call ‘dead faith’.”  That’s what he called it in verse 17, and now he says it again in verse 20 and again in verse 26.

In verse 20, James responds to the unwillingness of his readers to recognize the connection between faith and works.  He says:  “You foolish fellow”.  The Greek word can be translated “empty” in the sense that they are “without spiritual life”.  James goes on to say, “Can’t you see that faith without works is useless”?  The Greek word “arge” means “barren”, “unproductive”.  Faith that fails to produce genuine works motivated by willing obedience from the heart is a dead faith.  It demonstrates that it has never been alive because there has been no external evidence sufficient to remove any doubt.  Righteous behavior is an inevitable result of genuine faith.

In verses 21-25 James proves his point by giving two examples of true living faith from the Old Testament:  Abraham and Rahab, described as “our father” and “the harlot”.  The evidence for Abraham’s genuine faith was his willing obedience to God’s command to offer up his own son, Isaac, on the altar.  Because of his obedience, Galatians, chapter 3, teaches that Abraham is the spiritual father of all true believers..

James 2:22 reads, “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”  The Berkeley version says it this way:  “You see how his faith cooperated with his works and how faith reached its supreme expression through his works.”  Abraham’s works made his faith complete.  In verse 23 Abraham  is called “the friend of God”

On the opposite end of the social and moral spectrum, James now chooses Rahab as an example of true living faith.  Even though Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute, James says “Likewise also”, telling us that the illustration of Rahab teaches the same lesson about faith as the illustration of Abraham:  “God saves, not because of one’s righteousness, but because of one’s faith.”  Remember:  only God can actually see our faith.  We see genuine saving faith only by works.   Rahab demonstrated her saving faith by her words to the spies in Joshua 2 saying, “… the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below”, and by her willingness to hide the spies at the risk of her own life and the lives of her family members.  Joshua 6:25 and Matthew 1:5  tell us how God blessed Rahab.  She was grafted into the nation of Israel, became the wife of Salmon, and was an ancestor in the line of David and the Lord Jesus Christ.  She is also mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a woman of faith.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

In verse 25, the apostle James states his conclusion one more time:  “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead”  Do you have living faith? Do you have saving faith?  Is it evident to those around you?  Is it evident to you?  You may have been baptized, you may have made a public or private profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  You may be attending a church at the present time.  You may be in the choir or teaching a Sunday School Class.  You may be on the deacon or elder board.  You could even be a pastor and not have a saving faith that manifests itself in a deepening walk with Jesus Christ and increasing joy in serving Him and obeying his Word.  I’m not saying this to point the finger at anyone or embarrass anyone.   I just want you to be sure if there might be any doubt.  Good works are the proof that Jesus Christ is living and reigning in your life.  As Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “And why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

May our faith be genuine and evident to the world around us, and may we enjoy the privilege of being children of God through faith evidenced by works (Ephesians 2:8-10).