Reading Time: 7 Minutes
The Bible is clear about God’s plan of eternal salvation. It is for people who have entered into a personal relationship with God through the death of Jesus on the cross, his resurrection and their personal trust in his finished work.
Paul stated it well when he wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2.8-9).
Unfortunately, some people have interpreted God’s grace to be a free pass to do anything we want. They say, “God and I have a deal. He likes to forgive and I like to sin.” A quick survey of the Book of James let’s us know that this cheap view of grace is wrong.
— James 1.22 – But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
— James 1.25 – But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act — they will be blessed in their doing.
— James 1.27 – Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
— James 2.8 – You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
— James 2.14 – What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?
— James 2.17-18 – So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
James Learned from Jesus
Where did James learn that genuine faith will result in a certain kind of behavior? He learned it from the teachings and behavior of his older brother, Jesus.
Jesus gave this account of the judgment, based on the kind of true faith that demonstrates itself in the actions of people.
He said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me'” (Matthew 25.31-36).
A Total Response
Reading both James and this portion of Jesus’ message reminds us that faith is a TOTAL response to God’s love. Faith produces an overall attitude and a particular commitment to live like Jesus did.
Jesus expects people who have placed their faith in him to make the world a better place. The starting point for our work is where human needs are most fundamental. If people are living in unacceptable living conditions, God’s people are held responsible to find ways of giving them a “hand up.”
The judgment described in this passage is one that falls on action or inaction. The question for us is whether we are working for the benefit of the “little ones” (Matthew 18.6, 10, 14) or not?
I Didn’t Know
Jesus said this about the people who had chosen to help others achieve their basic needs. He said, “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’
“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me'” (Matthew 25.37-40).
Don’t miss it. Jesus calls the crowd of people who have been serving those who are most in need, “righteous” (Matthew 25.37). Jesus describes the behavior of the righteous most famously in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Who are the righteous? They are people who actively live out a Jesus-kind-of-life in practical ways of service.
Verse 40 highlights God’s love for the “little ones.” When people served the “least of these” or “little ones,” they served him. They were viewed as righteous and judged favorably, because their faith led them to beneficial action on behalf of those who had the most pressing basic needs.
The purpose of judgment is to eliminate evil from God’s presence. Jesus outlined what the evil people did – or rather, didn’t do. They refused to care for the very “little ones” or “least of these” that the righteous served. As such, they were described as an evil that needed to be eliminated.
When Jesus told this crowd that they didn’t serve him, they responded, “We didn’t see you. So, how can we be expected to help?” (Matthew 25.44 paraphrase).
They didn’t see Jesus, because they didn’t see the “little ones” and the “least of these.”
This message from Jesus challenges me in a few ways. First, I am challenged to see people the way Jesus sees them. I want to be receptive to give my time, energy, money and more when the Holy Spirit prompts me.
I am thankful for the excellent example of many Maywood Baptist people, who serve so willingly in a variety of ways. They encourage me to do my part, too.
Please pray that Maywood Baptist Church and the other churches in our area will be allow this parable to direct our ministry. May the churches exemplify the service of Jesus to the world around us.
I am challenged to think about our government’s policies in the light of the “little ones” and “least of these.” I feel God wants us to pray for governmental leaders to hear clearly about what is his will in these extremely difficult times of leadership. Please join me in praying daily for leaders to hear and respond to the Spirit.
Dear Jesus, we place our faith in you. Please show us how to best serve the “little ones” and “lease of these” whom we meet on a daily basis. May we honor you with our actions.