Category Archives: Service

An Empty Faith

by Francois-Andre VincentTo anyone who has ever walked down the streets of a busy metropolis, the situation is probably a familiar one. A poverty-stricken individual approaches you. Before he even speaks, you know what he wants: “a little help,” “just some kindness,” or “only a few pennies.”

What is your reaction? Do you empty your pockets? Do you offer to buy him lunch instead? Or do you ignore him and continue walking? Quite often, we choose Option C and neglect the opportunity to show the love of Christ to a stranger. And while we may be able to rationalize our inaction based upon a myriad of “reasons,” how much different would our response be if the beggar on the street was not a stranger at all?

Pretend, for a moment, that the person asking for help was another believer – a member of your own church. Would you still walk away? Probably not. Hopefully not. But what if you did?

Now, put the shoe on the other foot. What if you were the beggar in the scenario, and the person from whom you were seeking help was a leader in your church? There you are, starving and clothed in rags, and a fellow believer – a friend – simply passes by with a greeting: “I’ll pray for you. God bless!” What would you think of that person? How would you view the testimony of your friend?

It seems like an incomprehensible situation, but it’s lifted directly from the pages of Scripture. In the second chapter of James, the half-brother of Jesus writes: “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 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 (vs. 15-16)?”

James’ question is not merely a hypothetical situation, however; it is actually a poignant illustration of the point that he is trying to make: What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he have faith, and hath not works (James 2:14)?”

James 2:14 has long been the source of consternation among students of the New Testament. On the surface, it would seem that James is contradicting the doctrine of justification by faith. A cursory reading may suggest good works are somehow necessary for salvation, and that faith alone is not enough. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, James is indicating that a faith devoid of godly works is a useless faith, and certainly not of God. In other words, if a man’s works do not show some indication – whether small or great – of a continual transformation into the image of Christ, then the question will inevitably be asked: “Was it ever saving faith to begin with?”

To prove his point, James offers up the illustration of the destitute believer and his heartless brother. In the illustration, the needs of the starving brother are clearly refused. The most shocking part of the story, however, is not the inaction of the fortunate believer; it is his acknowledgment of the destitute brother’s situation. His command to “depart in peace” was both outwardly pious and terribly religious. In essence, the fortunate believer is saying, “Go with God! Trust him to fill all your needs!” While this sounds good, it accomplishes nothing. When the fortunate brother leaves, the destitute brother is still naked and starving. Rather than offering pious idioms, the fortunate brother should have been the answer to the destitute brother’s prayer.

The point that James is trying to convey is that the “faith” of the fortunate brother is useless (unprofitable), and as empty as the poor man’s belly. Just as this “faith” failed to fill the needs of the destitute brother’s body, so it had already failed to meet the needs of the fortunate brother’s soul. This kind of faith – a faith without works (Christ-like behavior) – offers no proof of the spiritual change in a “believer’s” heart, because the heart in question was never actually changed.

Like his response to the situation of a brother in need, the faith of the fortunate brother is merely an acknowledgement. An acknowledgment, however, is merely passive; faith, as it is described in Scripture, is always active. While we are saved by faith alone, it takes a specific kind of faith to convert the soul. The “faith” that functions solely as an acknowledgment of a condition or a creed (James 2:19) is not enough. This kind of faith is incapable of rendering any sort of spiritual change. In a mature believer, true faith is evidenced by active godliness and Christ-like behavior. There is no action – no good deed – that can reconcile a man to God; we are justified and saved by faith alone. It is a man’s actions, however, that give evidence of his salvation.

So, when James asks, “Can faith save him?” in verse 14, what he is really asking is this: “Can this kind of faith – a faith without works – be saving faith?” And the answer to that question is a resounding “No.” True faith – saving faith – will give proof of itself through the transformation of a person’s behavior. Sometimes, it is a subtle transformation (as in the life of a child); other times, it is drastic and impossible to miss. Either way, saving faith will always give evidence of its own existence. Like every aspect of the believer’s life, the purpose of saving faith should be the glory of God, and nothing brings Him more glory than when the life of a sinner is radically changed into a reflection of the Savior.

© 2010 Jeremy Austin Watts


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The Good Part: Having a Mary Mindset in a Martha World

In the tenth chapter of Luke, we find the record of Christ’s visit to Martha’s home in Bethany. The story of what happened that day is well-known: while Martha busied herself with the affairs of the home, her younger sister Mary chose to spend time with Jesus instead. The Savior praised Mary’s choice to sit at His feet, while rebuking Martha for her tireless service at the expense of His company: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).”

While we have no problem acknowledging that Mary’s choice was superior to Martha’s in the eyes of God, we often fail to understand just how wrong Martha was. If there is a good part (as Jesus said), then there must also be a “bad” part. The comparison between the sisters was not that Martha had done a good thing, and Mary had done a better thing. On the contrary, Jesus said that Mary had done a “good” thing; and by comparison, Martha had done a “bad” thing.

This is sometimes such a hard concept for us to understand. Granted, Martha had neglected the company of her Savior at the expense of cooking His supper. Her actions had been misguided, but were they really such a terrible thing? After all, Martha’s only intention was to serve the Savior she loved – or was it?

In the culture of Martha’s day, it was expected that a woman should serve her guests. When a distinguished visitor (such as a rabbi) occasioned upon her home, it was socially acceptable that she should stay in the background and serve his needs. The dinner conversation was not the place for the socially conscious Jewish woman; it was for the men. More than likely, there were many men with Christ that day in Martha’s home. At this point in His ministry, Jesus was rarely separated from His twelve closest disciples. In addition, Mary and Martha had a brother named Lazarus who was probably also in attendance. From a cultural perspective, Martha was not expected to join the men and partake of the Master’s fellowship. She was fulfilling her traditional duty.

Mary, on the other hand, was not socially conscious. She threw off all cultural expectations when she chose to sit at the Master’s feet and hear Him teach. The place where Mary sat was reserved for a rabbi’s disciples, all of which were usually men. It was not a socially acceptable thing for a woman to be the student of a great teacher. But Mary did not care. The Word of God did not forbid her from sitting at Christ’s feet, and neither did He. Mary’s actions, though culturally unacceptable, were pleasing to the Master.

In a way, the foundation of modern culture is no different from the culture of the ancients; society still demands that we conform to its own expectations for our lives. Martha conformed to those expectations, and incorporated them into her service. Mary revolted from those same expectations, and came to know the Master in a greater way.

We live in a Martha world. We are expected to conform our Christianity to a standard of societal norms: as long as we fit inside the status quo, the culture deems us acceptable. But God demands that we conform our Christianity into the image of His Son, and the only way that this can occur is by throwing off the expectations of a sinful world and partaking in His beautiful fellowship. The end result of dynamic Christianity is not that the world would find us acceptable, but that the world – through us – would be turned upside down for the sake of the Master we love.

© 2010 Jeremy Austin Watts

What It Means to Be One of You

A few years ago, I heard a sermon that recent events have brought to the forefront of my memory. It was a rare occasion when I was unable to take notes, but I have never forgotten the title of that message. It was called “What It Means to Be One of You,” and it was taken from the last twelve verses in Colossians. I do not recall all of what was said that day, but I would like to borrow the title of that sermon to express a few thoughts of my own.

The Epistle to the Colossians was written while Paul was in a Roman prison. In the letter, Paul dealt with the growing problems of Gnosticism, Jewish legalism, and pagan mysticism in the church. He also stresses two important doctrinal principles: the nature of Christ’s church (Col. 1:18, 24-25; 3:11,15) and the preeminent sufficiency of Christ in all areas of life (Col. 1:15-20, 2:2-15).

At the end of his doctrinal discourse, the Apostle Paul mentions the names of nine other believers in his parting words to the Church at Colossae. Little is known regarding most of these individuals, but the Holy Spirit deemed it appropriate and necessary to record their names in the pages of Scripture. Because all of God’s Word is profitable for us, there is something to learn from this diverse group of individuals:

“All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord: whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here (Col. 4:7-9).”

Tychicus – Although he is mentioned several times in Scripture as Paul’s trusted scribe and messenger (Eph. 6:21,24; II Tim. 4:12), relatively little is known of this man. He was a Gentile convert that Paul took with him to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 20:4), and was apparently a capable leader who had filled in for Titus on Crete (Tit. 3:12). With the exception of the final verse, the Epistle to the Colossians had been penned by Tychicus, and he was charged with delivering the letter to the church in Colossae.

Onesimus – He was a runaway slave who, after arriving in Rome, had encountered Paul and was led to the glorious saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He was returning to Colossae with Paul’s trusted friend Tychicus, presumably because the journey was too dangerous to make alone (because of slave catchers). He carried with him a letter from Paul that was addressed to the master he had defrauded (The Epistle to Philemon). Though he had been at once unprofitable to his master, he now stood on equal footing with Philemon in the presence of the Greatest Master of All.

“Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus… and Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me (Col. 4:10-11).”

Aristarchus – He was a Jewish traveling companion of Paul and no stranger to the trouble that followed the apostle: he had been seized in Ephesus by a riotous mob (Acts 19:29), and was now in prison with Paul in Rome (Col. 4:10). He was a man who was faithful both to the mission and to his friend – particularly in hours of peril and need.

Marcus (John Mark) – Mark had been led to the Lord by Simon Peter (I Pet. 3:15), and was a man who understood the meaning of restitution. He had, at one time, fallen out of favor with Paul because of his desertion in Perga during Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:13). His uncle Barnabas gave him a second chance, however (Acts 15:39), and he was at some point returned to Paul’s favor – first as an acceptable companion in Rome (Phi. 24, Col. 4:10), and later as a one whose ministry was profitable to Paul in the apostle’s final days (II Tim. 4:11). He also penned the Gospel account that bears his name.

Jesus (called Justus) – Nothing is known of this man, except that he was a Jewish believer who was noted for his righteous living and exemplary testimony (as evidenced by the name used to address him).

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis (Col. 4:12-13).”

Epaphras – He was the pastor of the Colossian church (Col. 1:7), and was visiting Paul in Rome at the time that the Epistle was written (Col. 4:12). He had been saved under Paul’s ministry while traveling in Ephesus, and had evidently begun the church in Colossae upon returning to his hometown. He was a fervent prayer warrior, who had a singular love for the church at Colossae and the same desires for her people as the Apostle Paul himself.

“Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you (Col. 4:14).”

Luke – Of all of Paul’s traveling companions, few were as faithful as the beloved physician. He was with Paul at the end when all others were gone (II Tim. 4:11), and he served as the recorder of the apostle’s missionary journeys. He was used by God to write more of the New Testament than any other known penman, and was an accomplished doctor and historian. He was not a preacher, but an incredibly talented layman that was used to encourage the Apostle Paul in a mighty way.

Demas – He was a man with incredible potential, who had shown great commitment to the Lord’s work (Phi. 24) before abandoning Paul and falling in love with the world (II Tim. 4:10). He is a poignant reminder that even the strongest servant of Christ can drift away from the ministry when he loses his first love.

“And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it (Col. 4:17).”

Archippus – He was the son of Philemon, a “preacher-boy” trained by Epaphras, and the pastor of the church that met in his father’s house (Phi. 2). Because Paul had never been to Colossae (Col. 2:1), he had never met this young man. But Epaphras had no doubt prayed for Archippus diligently, and had spoken highly of him to Paul. Paul’s words of encouragement to the young Colossian minister strongly resemble his charge to Timothy, the apostle’s own protege and beloved son in the ministry (II Tim. 4:5).

“The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen (Colossians 4:7-18).”

Paul Little needs to be said of Paul, who was the most visible member of the church. He was a man filled with zeal and committed to the furtherance of Christ’s Kingdom. At the time of this epistle’s writing, he was also the brother of the Colossian church who was most in need of prayer and encouragement.

In reading through this list of names, it becomes very evident how different these men were from one another. Tychicus was a Gentile; Justus was a Jew. Aristarchus and Luke were consistently faithful; John Mark and Demas were at times guilty of desertion. The church at Colossae and the companions of Paul were comprised of people from all walks of life. And looking over this list at the end of Colossians, there is nothing apparent that could have united them – except for Christ.

Paul had written earlier in the epistle that Christ was the Head of the Church, and it was under this Headship that these men had become a body – a cohesive organism working toward a singular purpose. Nowhere is this more evident to me than in the phrase that Paul uses to describe both Onesimus (the criminal and runaway slave) and Epaphras (the diligent minister of the church): he referred to both of these men as one of you.” When Christ became the preeminent Master in the lives of these believers, they all came to stand on equal soil. Not one man was elevated above another, because Christ had been elevated above them all. Because of the Gospel, these diverse individuals now shared in one magnificent fellowship. They were “fellowservants” (Col. 4:7, literally “bondslaves”), redeemed to the same God; “fellowprisoners” (Col. 4:10), under the same blessed reproach; and “fellowworkers” (Col. 4:11), laboring for the same cause.

From the runaway slave to the educated physician, this body was united by their love for the Savior; and His amazing love had transformed their hearts in such a dynamic way that they had also learned to love one another. Nothing in this world brings more glory to God than a church that functions as one body, united under the Headship of Christ. This is the church as Jesus intended it to be. And this is what it means to be one of you.

© 2010 Jeremy Austin Watts; title from a sermon by C. Scott Pauley