Sunday, February 21, 2010
When Katie, Michelle and I were discussing this passage, I was assigned the task of finding out what it meant to James’s readers. What we read as a scenario about a rich man and a poor man walking into a church might have meant something entirely different to the original audience.
It is helpful to know that James’s readers were, for the most part, peasants. If you were the eldest son of your family you might have owned a plot of land. All the other siblings would be involved in trade. As the poorest members of society, and as religious outcasts, it would be common for rich people to drag these believers into the secular courts.
So what is James’s sermon on favoritism all about? The two theories that prevail are:
1. This is an illustration about two men walking into a synagogue. Early church Jews hearing this letter from James would have been worshiping in a synagogue. The believers would have catered to the wealthy man because his money would help support their congregation.
2. The passage is a reference to a church court proceeding. Both men are believers; the other church members are to settle their dispute. By seating the wealthy man in the front and making the poor man sit on the floor, the people would have violated Jewish law and, without hearing a word, would have sided with the rich man.
Regardless of how you interpret the illustration, James strongly decries showing favoritism to the wealthy man. He states that favoritism is contrary to the guiding law of Christ’s kingdom, to love your neighbor as yourself (v. 8-9).
While preparing to write this, I’ve been thinking about favoritism and today’s Church. I don’t think we are as likely to make decisions about people based on wealth and poverty as James’s readers were, but we have other categories for people, don’t we? We’re more comfortable with people we perceive as being “just like us.” While I’m not saying friendship and comfort are bad things, I wonder if they ever become an impediment to ministry and if they ever oppose Christ’s command to love our neighbors.
So that we can keep tracking with James and his audience, though, let us consider an instance of outright favoritism. Think of a celebrity whom you really admire. Imagine that person walks into your church on Sunday morning. Through another door comes a family of refugees. It’s time for the greet-your-neighbor part of the service. Whose hand are you going to shake?
I know what I would do. I’d climb over three rows of people to shake hands with Bruce Springsteen. I would promise myself that I’d meet the refugees the next week. And I would go away feeling all right. After all, it’s not like I killed anyone.
James’s readers must have been a lot like me (perhaps all of us?), because after verse 9, he begins to talk about keeping the whole law. If we stumble at one point, for instance by showing preference to the Boss, we are guilty of breaking all of God’s law.
Because we are law-breakers, we are subject to judgment. James tells his readers to let the awareness of this coming judgment shape the way they speak and act. He does not tell them this to scare them into submission, but rather to point them toward freedom.
At the root of favoritism is the question, “What’s in it for me?” If we only see relationships in terms of what they can do for us, we will be mired in the present and judged in the future. On the other hand, if we are really living in Christ’s freedom, there is no need to play favorites. If we are confident in Christ’s acceptance and in His provision, we will be free to reach out to all kinds of people—not just the ones who can give us something in return.
1. I glossed over verses 5-7. Spend a few minutes pondering them, perhaps thinking of some present-day applications of them.
2. What are some categories we use to group people in our “assembly”? How have you seen these labels be detrimental to relationships and ministry?
3. Have you ever been on the wrong end of favoritism—the guy sitting on the ground? Describe the situation.
4. It would be nice to stitch “Mercy triumphs over judgment” on a pillow; doesn’t it sound nice? How would you relate it to the rest of this passage, or to the theme of favoritism in general?
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Read James 1:22-27
Have you ever had that moment when you look in the mirror and wish you could change everything you see? You look a little pale. Your eyes are bloodshot. Your lips are a bit too thin. And your eyebrows are a bit too thick. Is your nose too big for your face? And are your ears uneven? You’re starting to develop wrinkles. Yet you still have acne. This is not what you bargained for at all. And you can’t really fix any of it without outside help – prescriptions, surgeons, professional help. So, it’s easier to just walk away from the mirror and forget what you’ve seen. At least that’s often my reaction to being confronted with things I don’t like, but can’t easily fix.
Is our spiritual life so different? We read that it’s foolish to look into a mirror and forget what we’ve seen. And in the comfort of Bible study, as you read about the foolishness of being exposed to the Word which brings life and walking away to forget what you’ve heard, the truth of that statement is obvious. But what about when the ‘rubber meets the road,’ when you’re confronted with an opportunity to be obedient to Scripture? Just like that outside help needed to fix the physical problems we see in the mirror, we need some outside help. We need Christ. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit who lives within us as believers and who enables us to be “doers of the Word.”
As Scripture takes root in our hearts and begins to bring forth life, we can no longer be confronted with those imperfections without desiring change. We desire to be obedient, to walk in-step with our Savior. We can no longer deceive ourselves that there is nothing wrong. The Word has adequately achieved its purpose – revealing our sin and giving us an opportunity to seek that outside help (i.e. forgiveness and change) from the Lord that we so desperately need.
What does it look like to be a “doer of the Word?” A doer refuses to live in that place of self-deception – denying there is a disconnect between what a follower of Christ should be and what her life currently looks like. A doer works to bridle her tongue (oh, there’s more coming on that as we continue on with James). A doer shows mercy and love to the oppressed, to the “widows and orphans” of her sphere. A doer avoids being stained by the world – she is shaped by Scripture, not by culture.
As we walk with Christ, let us strive to not only hear the Word, but to be doers.
*When you look in a mirror, what do you see and wish to change? What about when you look into the spiritual mirror of God’s Word?
*Can you think of other characteristics of a “doer of the Word?”
*Who are the “widows & orphans” in your sphere? What can you do practically to ease their oppression?
Sunday, February 7, 2010
listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20for man's anger does
not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21Therefore, get
rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly
accept the word planted in you, which can save you. James 1:19-21.
I volunteered for this passage because it has become very evident in
the past few weeks how relevant these verses are in my life. The need
for this truth to be accepted and practiced is great.
A couple weeks ago I walked into my bedroom ready to crash and sleep
for as long as the little man would let me. My husband was standing by
my dresser studying one of the many pictures that desperately need to
be dusted. He picked up the picture, taken eight years ago, of the two
of us sitting on a bench looking every bit as young as we were. I
asked him what he was doing and he paused, looked up at me and said,
“I was just thinking about how weird it is that if I saw the girl in
this picture walking toward me in the mall I wouldn’t know who she
Now, before I got married, my sister gave me some advice. She said that
James 1:19 was the most important verse for a happy marriage. She told
me to remember that often what we hear and what the other person is
really saying are not the same thing. I don’t often remember this
advice in time, but because of God’s grace at this time, I did. Instead
of ripping his head off and throwing it out the window, I sat down
slowly and looked at him, waiting for him to hear what he had just said,
and hoping there would be some explanation.
He continued by telling me he had been standing there looking at all
the pictures of us, starting as young teenagers in high school and
moving through college, our wedding and then of our new little family
complete with dog and child, and he couldn’t believe what a blessing
it was to have such an amazing history with the person he was going to
spend his life with.
My sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen,
slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
How different his thoughts were from where my mind had jumped when he
first started what he was saying. And I couldn’t help thinking how
much we miss in relationships because it is so easy to be SLOW to
listen and QUICK to speak. It’s a dangerous place to be.
For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
I have been thinking a lot about man’s anger. Where does my anger come
from? Nine times out of ten it is pride. My rights have been disturbed
or I feel misunderstood or overlooked. The point is my anger comes
from the moral filth and sin that is so prevalent in my life. I’m
either fighting my own battles that don’t need to be fought, or I’m
taking up the offenses of others and calling it righteousness.
I’ve taken to asking myself when I feel the anger boiling up inside,
“why am I angry?” There IS such a thing as righteous anger. But so far,
since starting this little exercise in growth, it has always been man’s
anger. The result of giving in to that anger is not life, it is
“He chose to give us birth through the word of truth” The hope here
is that Word he planted in us. It is there, it was planted in us the
day we took our first steps as God’s children. But like a seed that
has to have time to grow, the word does not turn into the mature
finished product it’s going to be overnight. It takes time.
These three little verses have been so convicting to me but freeing at
the same time. Yes there is stuff to clean up in my life, but the Word
has been planted. And as I accept it, as I look to the Lord for the
patience to listen quickly and speak slowly, I will taste the delicious
fruit of all He has created in my life.
1. What makes you angry?
2. How do you personally deal with anger? What does it do to your life?
3. How do we go about ridding ourselves of moral filth and the evil that is
so prevalent? Is that something that we are even doing or is God
doing it? Also what does “humbly accepting the word planted in us”