What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?it then continues with what I've always taken as an example of 'deeds':
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 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?however, it's not clear from the text that that's actually what it's an example of: instead, it may simply be an example of words and actions not matching up. After all, the text simply continues by saying:
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.This interpretation is borne out by the two explicit examples of 'deeds' the passage does give. I found these two examples quite obscure until Martin realised that we were thinking of the wrong kinds of deeds. I was thinking that the 'deeds' being talked about would be 'good works' - feeding the hungry etc. The examples given weren't like that at all: they were Abraham offering his son as a sacrifice to God, and Rahab helping the Israelites who were besieging her city. Martin realised that what links these two stories is that the people in them are acting like God is God (indeed in Rahab's case, she is also acting like her enemy's God was more powerful than her own). The point being made is not that their faith was complemented by good works: instead, James is saying that their faith was shown to be real by the fact that they acted on it.
Martin and I have recently started reading the gospel of John and yesterday we came across another example of this kind of deed. In John 4:43-53 a powerful man comes to Jesus and begs him to come and heal his dying son. Instead of going with him, Jesus simply says "go, your son will live". Without protest, the man goes: his action demonstrates his faith in Jesus and his words.
Martin and I are both priveleged to have examples of this kind of faith in our own parents. In different ways, they have allowed God's claims on them to totally shape how they have lived their lives: their lives show what they believe. We are grateful to have been raised by such people.