Works and Faith: Can’t Be One Without the Other

My Brothers and Sisters, if a person claims to have faith but does nothing, that faith is worth nothing. Faith like that cannot save anyone.
…I will show my faith by the good I do.
James 2:14,18

Kingdom work is the only way to create equality of opportunity. Work without faith is as useless as faith without work. There can be no true good without God.

I’ve been working on this post about the nature of work – kingdom work – for several days, thinking upon the topic for quite awhile, and, for the past two mornings, wrestling with it directly in my devotional time and at church. Let me start with the latter.

This week’s message at Grace Chapel was about a small team’s trip to experience the church in China. (Good news: the Church is doing well, recognized, tolerated, and even fostered by the government, contrary to what I had thought. For an excellent review, listen to Pastor Bryan’s 8/28/16 sermon at grace.org.)

More importantly, what I began to understand was that believers show their faith in Christ by what they do – or, rather, by the why and how of what they do. Kingdom workers are workers first, but workers who are ever-ready to give an answer about their faith, rather than the dedicated preachers and teachers of the faith of the Missionary past. They are engineers, infrastructure builders, simple people helping to develop and improve the world for others. (I’d say that the difference is that these believers are actually good for something, but I don’t want to disparage my pastor. At least not too much. 😉 )

There is a huge element of intentionality in “faithful doing”, no matter where the doing is done. My Saturday included two examples of Christians ready to answer the question, “Why are you here, voluntarily giving up your time; time that could be spent enjoying the benefits and comforts of arguably the most advanced society in the world? Why are you helping me instead of helping yourself to all the good things?”

First, the worship team from my Thursday night Celebrate Recovery played at a “Love Your Neighbor” outreach event in the inner city of Worcester. That evening my wife and I went out to dinner, and there were multiple large parties of diners who had spent the day at the Special Olympics. This got me to thinking about who are “the least of these.”

Obviously, there are people less fortunate in circumstances and abilities, as I saw on Saturday. But there are also the less fortunate in terms of exposure, examples, and experience of God and Christ, which was the message on Sunday. Both types of people don’t need to be preached at; they need to be shown faith: faith in action. Faith with works. Answer: “God calls me here to give, to share of the bounty he has given me. He has comforted me so that I can comfort you, and point you to Him as the source of all good things.”

What answer can be given for works without faith? For good without God? What else can such a morality be based on?

In Matthew 12:15-21, wherein Jesus feeds the 5000, he “…Looked up to heaven and said a blessing.” All good things come from God. Our bounty is a blessing. It is the miracle of our circumstances. And we are called to share it.

Delight Thyself in the Lord
And He shall give you the desires of thine heart.
Psalm 37:4

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Acts 4:32-35 which tells of the community of early believers:

The whole group of believers was united in their thinking and in what they wanted. None of them said that the things they had were their own. Instead, they shared everything. … Everyone who owned fields or houses sold them. They brought the money to the apostles. Then everyone was given whatever they needed.

And, of course, there is the Biblical “it is better to give than receive” in Acts 20:35.

China certainly tried good without God in turning to a Communist/Socialist society. It is heartwarming to see that they are now asking God back, as demonstrated by the Church’s acceptance. Perhaps it is because the ruling officials realized what is missing from Utopian stories, and why attempts to bring such perfect societies to real life fail: The early Christians spent their time talking and learning about God and Christ. They had faith.

I believe this is because Faith deals primarily with what is, and not what should be. Utopias try to make what should be come to pass by purely human means. “From each according to ability; to each according to need” certainly indicates intent to care for “the least of these”. But, in leaving out God, Christ, and the Spiritual, what is lost is the voluntary nature of sacrifice, the fact of God’s calling upon people. The submission of the one for the many becomes forced by one group upon another.

“To be a socialist is to submit the I to the Thou; socialism is sacrificing the individual to the whole.”
Joseph Goebbels

The basis for self-sacrifice, along with Jesus’ own life and death, is acceptance of the way my life is; however that is at any given time:

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
Philippians 4:11-12

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Psalm 23:1

If I have faith and trust in God, I am better able and more motivated to share and give away whatever I do have plenty of: time, resources, or just gentle words of encouragement. If I have faith, I accept, plainly, that there is no Equality of Ability. There never has been, and never will be. We are not created equal in gifts and talents, nor in fortuitous circumstances of birth. We, as a society/civilization, can only ever attempt to create Equality of Opportunity. And faith convicts and convinces us that the only way to adjust for inequalities in abilities and circumstances is to faithfully give of ourselves wherever we each see a need.

“Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the Gospel of envy. Its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”
Winston Churchill

“It is liberty that cultivates a country. No people can ever make any social and mental improvement whose exertions are limited. Knowledge, wisdom, culture, refinement, manners, are all founded on work and the wealth which work brings.”
Frederick Douglas

Socialism is focused on dragging down the circumstances of all to try and make up for differences in ability. But that is not human nature. As a “system” it sounds perfect. But systems depend on identical parts. Systems are not built for exceptions. And human beings are nothing but exceptions.

Only a political system which recognizes that making Equality of Opportunity (and not a pipedream of Equality of Ability) its highest ideal, allowing those who will to shine and those who will care to freely give, can claim any kind of success or morality.

This is not to say Capitalism/Representative Government is without faults. Without faith, it is just as flawed, and I believe we are seeing the cruel results of this today. No character demonstrates the weakness of the American Dream better than the prodigal son’s elder brother, whose self-righteousness and selfishness would not, could not allow him to rejoice and give of himself at the “re-birth” of his sibling. In truth, both sons were wayward.

For “Honest Work” to be honest, both the employer and the employee must be intentional about their part in the agreement: a “fair” wage for the best effort. I don’t believe we are seeing either these days. The whole point of sharing everything in Acts 4, was to prepare the community – and each member of it – for the hard times that God’s Word assures us will come. Sharing with faith is tithing. And just as there is temptation to skimp on the tithe or to remain in ignorance of its purpose, there is also temptation of the storehouse administrators to become possessive or for the successful to hoard for themselves what was given to be shared.

Faith with works, works with faith is the answer.

I’m no economystic, but…

I’m no economystic. I’m just a guy – a guy trying to follow Christ – who sees and thinks upon what he sees. And naturally, money is one of the biggy topics – I see, I think;  it matters in big ways for every one of us. We’re all very concerned with it, from my brother-from-another-mother, Dave, so concerned about the mail delivery of his $20 spending check every Friday, all the way to the most interesting man in the world, _____.

I just read an article, The Compassion of Capitalism, by Dr Anne Bradley on the website The Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics (tifwe.org), in which she writes,

“Entrepreneurs play a vital role in identifying the misfortunes of others, putting themselves in other’s shoes, to really experience what they are going through. We can create better ways of doing things only when we’re able to do this – and are incentivized to do so. Free market exchange provides for both.” (emphasis mine)

I really desperately want to agree with the sentiment that Capitalism = Compassion, but I just can’t anymore. Maybe this was more true at some point in history, but it’s a far cry from the truth of today. (Like I said, I see and I just think upon it.)

Let me break down that quote: “identifying the misfortunes of others.” This is certainly true. Aren’t we all very good at this? “Boyo, I’m sure glad I’m not in your shoes.” This recognition of when someone else is up s**ts creek is easy to come by. But to care to “to really experience what they are going through”? No way. Not any more. Now we are advised to recognize purely for exploiltative purposes. The “incentivization” comes first. “How can I make money by ‘helping’ others?” instead of “I want to help, thank you for your support.”

I have no cold, hard facts, but here are some impressions, some cases in point:
– note how Big Pharma seems more interested in keeping the ill as residual customers than in actually finding cures;
– note the recent three-figure-percent increase in a much-needed medication;
– note the trend in corporate out-sourcing and down-sizing, the focus on the bottom line;
– note the ‘warehousing’ that is human services, where CEO’s of ‘non-profits’ make six-figure salaries;
– note the whole disposable-goods approach to manufacturing – nothing’s built to last anymore, in spite of what the waste does to the planet.
These are not ways that put “the good of others” first.

Sure, maybe it used to be more prevalent that industries formed around providing a service where there was need. And there certainly is good that comes from this today. But the “helping” is no longer the primary purpose (if it ever was), the profit is. Any benefits are more a side-effect of making a fortune. It’s all backwards.

This much is true:

“…innovation, which is encouraged within a capitalistic system, breeds compassion even among the greedy and selfish. It doesn’t eliminate greed. Nothing can. It does encourage ordinary people to unleash their God-given creativity to identify the sufferings of others and eliminate them. That is compassion and we need more of it everywhere.”

“Encouraged” is the key word. It speaks to the motivation for “helping. To my mind, heavily influenced by Christ, compassion needs no material reward. Dictionary.com defines compassion as “a feeling of deep sympathy and concern for another who is stricken by misfortune accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” Not a word about recompense. And literally, the origin is Latin, compati, “suffer with“, not “benefit from.”

I do agree with this quote from Adam Smith, quoted in the article, as well:

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it… “

We are made, designed by God, our Maker, to desire to serve for the benefit of others. Making someone else’s day a little better makes our own much more so. This is compassion.

What I see today is, plainly, opportunism, which Merriam-Webster defines as “the art, policy, or practice of taking advantage of opportunities or circumstances often with little regard for principles or consequences.”

Yes, a by-product of Capitalism is benefits. But is it the best way mankind has to accomplish this? Will we ever be ready – are we ready now – to profit another way?