Week of July 19

Is That the Right Question?

Read Isaiah 32-35; James 2

"Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?"
James 2:5, ESV


“What kind of people will you be allowing in the buildings?” This question was raised by a business owner with whom I had a discussion about an outside meeting, and his underlying message was quite clear. I also encountered similar questions, on occasion, when I served as a pastor. I sought to be diplomatic with my response to the businessperson, but James did not hold back in his condemnation of “playing favorites” at church. James would ask Christians if the question above is the right question. He would turn such queries around by asking “What type of Christ-followers are you building? He issued a strong rebuke for their demonstration of favoritism to the wealthy who attended their services. He might even rebuke us today for the same display of partisanship. Nevertheless, we will miss the deeper point today, if we are not careful to examine his moral message.

A Biblical Lens

First, James reminded the church members that the rich folks in attendance were the very people who oppressed them outside of the church context (2:6). It is likely that many of these people were non-believers and guests in their worship gatherings. Some church members were catering to them. James reminded those believers that they were acting contrary to their best interests (HCBC). Secondly, their partiality toward the rich caused them to break God’s law (2:8; Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:29-31). Hmm. One coin and two sides! On the one hand, they usurped God’s rightful place as judge, and on the other hand, they proved to be hurtful to people who were made in God’s image (2:4). In Ashlock speak, “They needed to wash their hands and hearts!”

James makes it clear to his readers that showing partiality actually undermined their faith in Christ (HNTC). How so? Their attitudes and actions were casting shade, as we say today, on the glory and majesty of Jesus Christ (2:1, “the Lord of glory)! Some of those church members were giving special benefits to those had “money, power, or social prominence.” This undercuts severely the witness that Christ’s requires of his disciples (Read Matthew 6:19-21, & 24). He will not tolerate such disrespect for His Lordship. This a hard truth but there is more.

Furthermore, such actions broke the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 1:17). Moses wrote, “You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s” (contrast with James 2:2-4). God’s New Covenant people were also forbidden from such behavior because it created divisions within their church fellowship. Such competing moral principles were also detrimental to the good news that they claimed to herald (see Galatians 3:28). Jesus died for all people, but they were not behaving in a manner that supported this truth.

There is one further thought that we need to examine. James writes of the “perfect law, the law of liberty” in 1:25, and he mentions the same again in 2:12. God’s standard of judgment will be based upon the law that gives freedom (i.e. the gospel; HNTC). We should never do anything to jeopardize the freedom of people to serve God and to escape the coming judgment. Playing favorites robs people of the mercy that we received and are to show toward others (cf. Matthew 5:7). Let’s apply the point that James makes to our lives today.

A Moral Pathway

James wants his readers to put spiritual truth into practical action (cf. 1:19-27; cf. 2:12-13, “So speak and so act”). He uses verb tenses that remind us to sustain this type of moral behavior all the time. The poor man in 2:2 was denied the mercy that he deserved (cf. Matthew 18:33). Hold this thought in mind, then read the following paragraph carefully.

The three richest Americans possess more wealth than 50% of the domestic population; namely, 160 million Americans (cf. Forbes, 11/19-2017). The four hundred richest Americans possess more wealth than the bottom 64% of the country. I hasten to write that that two of the top three wealthiest individuals in our nation participate heavily in philanthropic efforts, but they are my illustration and not my point. Our culture often measures value in terms of extrinsic (external) things like money in the bank, the clothes on one’s back, and the jewelry on a person’s hands (cf. 2:2).

The Body of Christ, however, should (Ethics!) take the lead in enhancing the dignity of all humanity by ministering to the ever-growing “have nots” in our culture. It will begin at church by how we measure the value of each human life. Christ’s kingdom citizens promote the intrinsic worth of every human life. Our Lord’s church will seek to lift the yoke of oppression off of the poor (e.g. Matthew 5:3; Matthew 19:21; Luke 7:22; and Luke 20:46-47). It is my growing concern that many churches today appear to be more interested in the proverbial “bread in the offering plates” than feeding people the “bread of life” and helping them to put “bread on the dinner plates” at home. Let’s ponder some questions, then strive to put what we have learned into action.

For Your Journaling

1. Write a sentence or two that describes “your people.” You know. The people with whom you feel most comfortable. Consider how you will widen your circle of mercy to include others.

2. How welcoming to all is your church? Welcoming actually begins outside of Sunday worship. What intentional mercy-driven ministries does your church have? Review them and adjust to reflect the principles learned today.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock