What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
St James reminds us that wishing needy people well can be pretty hollow if we also have the means to help them but don’t do it. Even praying for them, but withholding material aid from them when we have the means to help them, has the same emptiness to it. Our Good intentions need to be matched by our good deeds when it is in our power to help others. St Augustine reminds us of our spiritual need to be good:
Do you have wealth? It is a good thing. But only if your use of it is good. You will not be able make good use of it if you are evil: wealth is an evil for the evil, a good for the good. Not that it is a good in the sense that it makes you good, but it is converted into good when it is in the hands of the good.
Do you want to have honor? It too is a good. But only if used well. How many are those whom honor has led to a bad end! Yet how many others have been helped by honor to behave well!
Be a good tree. Do not fool yourself that you can produce good fruits if you are a bad tree; good fruit comes only from a good tree. So, change your heart and your actions will change too. Weed out greed and plant love. As ‘the root of all evil is greed‘, [cf. 1 Timothy 6:10] so the root of all good is love.
If only you knew what goodness is! What you want is not good, the good is what you do not want. Look within yourself, seek within. What is not pleasing to your renewed heart, kill off; what is pleasing to it, nourish.
If you find yourself void of good works, why are you so keen to have external goods? What use is a coffer brimming over with money, if your conscience is empty? What use are the things you have, if you do not have the One who gave all?
Do not put your trust in untrustworthy riches. Hope in God, in God alone. He gives you all in abundance: the goods of the earth for your use, the goods of eternity for your pleasure. (DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, pp 292-293)
[Two months ago, I used the above scripture verse from St James to challenge the OCA’s Metropolitan and Synod for taking such a timid stance about the Russian war in Ukraine. See my post Praying for Peace for All Orthodox. Indeed, we are to pray for these people (especially those who are Orthodox) that God will give them peace. However, there is a whole lot more that Orthodox throughout the world can and should do to help those who are victims of this war and who are suffering as a result of the Russian onslaught against the Ukrainian civilians. As St James says, beyond wishing them peace, we need to give them “the things which are needed for the body“, otherwise our faith lacks works and is dead.]