By Bob Wilkin1
James 2:14 begins with three words in Greek: ti to ophelos.
Those three Greek words are found only one other time in the NT. Guess where?
Two verses later James repeats those three words.
Those words are translated in four different, but related, ways in the leading English translation:
What does it profit…? (NKJV, MEV, KJV,RSV, ASV).
What good is it…? (NIV, NET, CEV, HCSB, ESV, WEB).
What use is it…? (NASB).
What is the benefit…? (LEB).
Those four translations are all asking the same question. The only difference is in the word chosen to translate ophelos: profit, good, use, benefit.
James is asking us to consider what it profits us if we fail to put our faith to work. He is addressing believers, “My brethren.”
Clearly the “someone” who says he has faith yet does not have works, is potentially any believer. If we are honest, we have all been guilty sometimes of having faith without works.
Have you ever seen a fellow believer in need and yet failed to help? I have. Many times.
The need might be financial. Or it could be an illness that makes it hard for the brother or sister to cook, shop for food, or mow the yard. It could be divorce that leaves the children without their dad.
Have you given them money? Taken them a meal? Mowed their yard? Fixed their car? Spent time with their kids? Listened to them? Encouraged them?
In other articles in our journal and blog, we explain that the salvation in Jas 2:14 concerns the deliverance of a believer from judgment in this life. The issue is not salvation from eternal condemnation. But in this article, I wanted to focus on the main point of Jas 2:14-17, profit or loss.
The reason ti to ophelos is repeated is because James is looking at profit or loss of two different people: the believer able to help and the believer needing help. If the believer able to help says nice words, but does not actually help, then he does not profit. That is, God does not bless and reward him. And the person in need does not profit either.
The principle here is this: whenever any believer fails to apply whatever he believes, he does not benefit from his belief. And if he should have been helping a fellow believer in need, but does not, then that other believer does not benefit either. That is the ultimate in a non-profit religion.
This principle applies to whatever we believe, about the call to love our spouse, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to give as the Lord prospers us, to pray without ceasing, to work to provide for our families, to share in Christ’s sufferings, to not get drunk with wine, to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, to encourage one another, etc.
God’s Word is meant to be applied. When we apply it, we benefit and those around us benefit as well. While your church is a non-profit organization, that is only true in the sense that it is not in business to make money. But it is in business to produce great profit in the lives of all its members. God desires our profit in this life and in the life to come. He blesses us when we apply His Word.
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He and Sharon live in Highland Village, TX. He has racewalked ten marathons.
1 This article originally appeared as a blog on November 9, 2022.