What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2:14-17
A rhetorical question is usually asked in order to produce an effect or to make a statement rather than to seek an answer because (usually) both the questioner and the recipient understand the point to be made. In the verses above, James uses this device to expose the hypocritical behavior of those who are glad to offer a warm greeting to a fellow believer, but unwilling to take action on behalf of those in need.
If you’ve read these for any length of time, you probably know that musician and writer Keith Green had a significant impact on my life in my youth. I’ve often said that Keith could say more in a three-minute song than most pastors can say in half an hour. In this lyric, he puts James’ words to music –
He brings people to your door,
And you turn them away, as you smile and say,
God bless you, be at peace, and all Heaven just weeps,
Cause Jesus came to your door,
you’ve left Him out on the streets.
Twice in the passage above, James asks “what good is it?” Kind words are desirable, but faith in action requires action.