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.
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