The situation in James's illustration is technically hypothetical ("If . . . ") but probably one he considered quite realistic. James's specification of a brother or sister (not just "someone") reflects an envisioning of real action toward real people. We already know many of his readers were living in economic hardship. His illustration does not imply that all Christians were living in poverty, but that in their midst they would be encountering cases of hardship as severe as a lack of sufficient clothing and even "the day's supply of food" (Adamson 1976:122).
The hypothetical response to the need is good wishes without any actions, for the needy ones are merely "dismissed with friendly words" (Davids 1982:121). The response to the needy ones begins literally, "Go in peace." The verbs "be warmed" and "be filled" could be either passive or middle. Though Davids disagrees (1982:122), Adamson (1976: 123) and Laws (1980:121) take them in the passive voice, which allows a religious overtone to the wishes. The person would be saying not just the secular-sounding translation of the NIV but the more pious "Go in peace. May you be warmed and filled" as an expectation that God would provide for the needy one. This would certainly suit James's context, objecting to "faith" that has pious words but no actions. The uselessness of this response is so obvious and offensive that James needs only to repeat his first rhetorical question: What good is it? James expects that faith will surely lead to actions to meet others' material needs.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
Step 1 - Create an account or log in to start your free trial.
Starting your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus is easy. You’re already logged in with your Bible Gateway account. The next step is to enter your payment information. Your credit card won’t be charged until the trial period is over. You can cancel anytime during the trial period.
Click the button below to continue.
Step 1 - Create an account or log in to start your subscription.
You’ve already claimed your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus. To subscribe at our regular subscription rate of $3.99/month, click the button below.
For the best Bible Gateway experience, consider upgrading to Bible Gateway Plus. Bible Gateway Plus equips you to have in-depth biblical discussions with your friends, your family, and your peers. Try it free for 30 days!