Faith and works

Belgian Christadelphians

Faith and works

Faith and works

7 June 2009 – Frank Gillard, Leicester Abingdon Road, Ecclesia, England

Readings: Judges 2 & 3, Isaiah 31, James 1

I don’t know about you, but I always have a feeling of un-ease as I read James chapter 2. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostle James has written a very practical letter to us; but it does contain some very challenging issues! He writes: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead being alone. Yea, a man will say, ‘Thou hast faith and I have works: show me thy faith without works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.’” “For as the body without the spirit (breath) is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James chapter 2 v 17&18, & v 26)

What a challenge! Belief is not enough – what we believe has to motivate us into action. In order to drive home the point, the apostle asks us to consider two examples from the Old Testament of God’s servants who demonstrated their faith by what they did. There are of course many examples James could have chosen, yet he selects Abraham and Rahab. Why did the Spirit direct him to these two? Yes, we can understand the choice of Abraham – a man of outstanding faith. He would probably have been our first choice too, but why focus our attention on Rahab? Was it just because of the sharp contrast between the two of them?

1) Abraham - the father of the Jewish race and Rahab a Gentile?

2) Abraham - a man and Rahab - a woman?

3) Abraham - a respected and revered pillar of society and Rahab - a despised harlot?

We are very familiar with the incidents in the life of Abraham, which mark him out as a man of great faith. Rahab is not spoken of nearly as often, so I thought that we ought to remind ourselves of what she did. Jericho, and not just Jericho, but all the inhabitants of the land were on ‘RED ALERT!’ because of the nearness of the Children of Israel who were only just across the River Jordan. Security was tight – Joshua’s men had been seen coming through the city gates and no-one had seen them leave.

We mustn’t underestimate the bravery of the two men that Joshua had chosen to send as spies. They were only young men, born during the 40 years of wandering through the wilderness. As likely as not, they had never been into a city with streets and houses before. All their experience had been living in tents, wandering from place to place in the wilderness. Now, Joshua had thrust them into a very strange and very dangerous position. Here too was faith shown by works! They trusted that God would bring them through and return them in safety to the camp of Israel. Sometimes, we too have to walk in faith, prepared, if called upon, to go into unfamiliar and dangerous places for the sake of the gospel. We just have to put our hand into God’s hand and be ready to follow wherever He leads us.

The strangers were last seen making their way to Rahab’s house and it was there that messengers from the ruler of the city were sent to catch them. Rahab was quick to act, but, in answering the messengers, she did bend the truth somewhat. “There were two of them, but I don’t know where they were from. (Oh yes she did!) They went out through the gate just before dark. (Oh no they hadn’t!) If you follow them, you’ll easily catch up with them. They were only on foot.”

You see, Rahab had already done her ‘work’ of faith. At great risk to herself and her family, she had hidden the spies away underneath the stalks of flax drying on her roof. What would have happened to her if the two spies had been discovered? If it had been proved that she was hiding the enemy, she certainly would have been in serious trouble with the authorities. She was prepared to put all that on one side and take the risk. Remember that at this stage, she had no idea how it would all turn out. What she did was a huge leap of faith! When the opportunity was right, she explained what had driven her to act in hiding the spies. (Read - Joshua chapter 2 v 8-11)

There are some important points that we should pick up from these words of Rahab. Firstly, we have to note that she acted in hiding the spies before she talked about her convictions. She acted before she talked about it! So often, we fall into the trap of talking at length before we get on with doing what is needed!

It is interesting to see that Rahab knows a lot about the people of God. She uses His covenant name in her remarks to Joshua’s two men “For the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath”. So, we can all appreciate why Rahab was chosen to be put before us as an example of one of God’s servants who demonstrated their faith by their works; but what about us? How can we show our faith by our works?

If we look a little more closely at the subsequent events in the episode with Rahab; and if we use a little imagination, we shall find that she demonstrates her works of faith in several ways; and may be, we shall discover that we are able to follow her example of showing faith in the ‘little things’ of our life in the truth. Just look again at the text of Joshua ch 2 v 12 & 13.

Rahab was anxious about the welfare of her family. She wanted others to share in her chance of salvation. This was a work which was done in faith. It is a work that we should be trying to copy today. We too should be anxious about the welfare of others and it must be our faith that moves us to think about salvation for others. Her insistence paid off. “As I have showed kindness to you, will you show kindness to me and my father’s house? Will you leave me a true token that you will keep your word?”

She did receive the promise and the token. (Read Joshua chapter 2 v 18 & 19) Having let the spies down through the window with a cord, her first reaction would be to pull up the cord to cover her involvement. “Keep this cord,” she was instructed. It had to be this one, another would not do! Keep it - and when the Israelites enter the land, then, tie this scarlet cord in your window once more. There was quite a delay until the attackers came and she would keep on looking at the token and remembering what it meant. Once more she would be called upon to show her faith by her works. She had to trust in the token. Day by day she kept watching from her window for any sign that the Children of Israel were coming.

The other clear instruction she had received was, “only those with you in the house will be saved!” Do you think that she knew about the events of the Passover night? It was only those houses, which had the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorpost and lintel who escaped the slaying of the firstborn. She did not have the actual blood of the Passover lamb. She had a scarlet token to represent it. She had a scarlet thread that she had to keep. The token that the spies left was the only tangible thing that she had to cling on to. A promise and a token – that was all that she had. Once more, Rahab demonstrates her faith by what she does! (Read Joshua chapter 2 v 21)

There is more too when we turn over a few pages and read how the events unfolded. Please come with me to Joshua chapter 6 v 22 & 23. Faith demonstrated by works was rewarded and because of what Rahab had done for the two spies, she and her family were saved whilst others perished. She and those she loved were embraced into God’s chosen people and given their place at the edge of the camp of Israel. Good though this was, it was not enough for Rahab! Just look at Joshua chapter 6 verse 25. Where the Revised version says that she dwelt in the ‘midst’ of Israel.

Being on the edge of the camp was not enough for Rahab! Her faith drove her to seek a place ‘in the midst of the camp’. Her trust in the promises motivated her to make sure that she was at the heart of things not just on the fringes. No wonder then that the Apostle James puts Rahab in front of us as a shining example of one of God’s servants who showed her faith by her works!

There are a number of ways, large and small in which she demonstrated her trust in the promise of salvation by what she did. 1) She acted first in hiding the spies before speaking about her faith. 2) She remembered how God had acted in the past and believed He will work again. 3) She showed concern for the welfare of others in her family. 4) She kept ‘in the house’ whilst waiting for her salvation to be worked out. 5) She ensured that she moved away from the edge of life in the truth, right to the heart of things. 6) She was watching out for the signs of her coming salvation. 7) She was the recipient of a token and a promise.

We do have much in common with Rahab. There are opportunities for us in our day to show our faith by our works. We have to keep watching – We have been told, ‘When these things begin to come to pass then look up and lift up your heads for your redemption is drawing near’. We too have been left with a promise and a token. We believe that in Jesus, our salvation will be assured if we continue to remember him in these tokens of bread and wine. Just like Rahab, we have to take the token and trust that so long as we are faithful, we shall receive the blessing of full and free salvation. May our Heavenly Father see our willing participation in this feast of remembrance as a demonstration of our faith in His promise to bring us into His Kingdom.

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