“…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?”
and one of you says to them,
The phrase “one of you” indicates that James is challenging Christians in their callousness toward the poor. The challenge is to a faith that talks a good line but does not produce any real action.
“Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,”
James here depicts a heartless Christian who utterly discounts the welfare of fellow Christians by greeting them with a caviler and supercilious attitude. The quotation “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled” points to a contemptuous attitude that puts the onus entirely on the person in need: “What is wrong with you? Why don’t you go out and get a job?”
Mere kind and religious words do not help the poor. Christianity operates in more than the spiritual world but in the concrete world of helping people in financial need. Nice words are not enough in some situations. If people are starving, they do not listen to the message.
but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body,
The word “needed” means the necessities of life, the things that the body needs. This was a real situation in Jerusalem at the time because of the persecution of Christians (Ro 15:25-31; 1 Co 16:3).
what does it profit?
James repeats this phrase for emphasis (2:14). This question “What does it profit?” indicates that the comment “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled” is an utterly hollow answer. This faith has no “profit” or advantage to the financially poor. An abstract faith cannot clothe or feed anyone.
A true faith invigorates the Christian into concrete action. A dead faith is passive and without production in the Christian life. The best way to determine how genuine our faith is as Christians is to look at our works.
Faith is an operative principle that always puts what it knows to experience.
A passive faith ultimately hardens the heart. A person with a hardened heart is a purveyor of words. A person starving cannot eat words. Words do not clothe the body. Lovely sentiments without actions are utterly unfruitful. A person with a dead faith is a supplier of words, not action.