journey through James (11): twenty questions on James 2:1-13

This coming Sunday morning at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 2:1-13. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: “favoring freedom by fighting back the flood-waters of favoritism.” To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty questions with which to wrestle.

My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, ‘Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.’ But to the poor person you say, ‘Stand over there’; or, ‘Here, sit at my feet.’ Wouldn’t you have shown favoritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges?

My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?

You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself. But when you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker. Anyone who tries to keep all of the Law but fails at one point is guilty of failing to keep all of it. The one who said, Don’t commit adultery, also said, Don’t commit murder. So if you don’t commit adultery but do commit murder, you are a lawbreaker. In every way, then, speak and act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom.  There will be no mercy in judgment for anyone who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy overrules judgment. (James 2:1-13 CEB)

1. Make a list of the sins James says his brothers and sisters in Christ were guilty of according to this text (vs. 1-13).

2. Someone tells you “favoritism is just part of being human” and so, “you shouldn’t get too worked up about it” because it’s “just the way things are.” This Scripture teaches otherwise! Working from this passage (vs.1-13) what exactly is it would you say that makes showing favoritism a “sin?”

3. Working only from what you know from this passage (vs.1-13) would you say the “wealthy” spoken of here are Christians or people who are yet to believe? What of the poor? Would you say they are believers or unbelievers? Why and what effect does your understanding have on understanding the context of James’ letter as a whole?

4. Why would Jesus being referenced as “Lord Jesus Christ” and “resurrected to glory” (vs.1) be important to the context of the discussion that follows (vs.1-13)?

5. Assume for a moment the church today has the same problem the church had in James’ time, namely, showing favoritism to the well-to-do (vs.1-3). James’ evidence the church then was guilty of such was how the well-to-do were greeted and where they are seated in an assembly. What evidences would you place on the table regarding favoritism toward the well-to-do today? If it helps you answer, think of yourself as an impoverished Christian watching what all goes on in a Christian gathering.

6. What can Christians do to be pro-active in preventing favoritism from taking root in the lives of Christians, and in preventing its expression and tolerance in a Christian gathering?

7. Imagine a church today considering establishing a “dress code” for Christians attending Christian gatherings. What bearing would you say this text (vs.1-13) should have on such a conversation?

8. James is seriously put out with the judging that’s going on in church (vs.4). Good thing that doesn’t happen today, right? Right. James’ beef was with Christians judging others, and each other, on the basis of clothes and jewelry. What sort of things have you witnessed or experienced judging going on about among Christians in church today?

9. Would you say vs.5 does or does not teach that God shows “holy prejudice” toward the poor? Allow the whole of Scripture to inform your understanding and explain.

10. To whom has God specifically promised the kingdom (vs.5)? Why?

11. How is it these Christians could be tempted to show favoritism to the wealthy (vs.1-3) when it was the wealthy who was treating them so badly (vs. 6-7)?

12. In this passage the basis of favoritism that James decries among Christians is showing favoritism toward status, power, and money. What other reasons for favoritism have you witnessed or experienced “in church?”

13. Brainstorm a list of ways Christians commonly, whether wittingly or unconsciously, “dishonor the poor” (vs.6). Brainstorm an additional list of ways Christians can deliberately show, and encourage, respect to the poor among them.

14. Notice the reference to baptism in vs.7. What might we be able to conclude regarding Christian baptism working only from the information in this passage?

15. Where else is the statement “love your neighbor” found in Scripture outside of this passage (vs.8) and who said it?

16. To “love your neighbor as yourself” is “the royal law found in Scripture” (vs.8). James’ concern is for brotherly love to not be damaged by the practice of favoritism. What other explicit instances of practicing brotherly love have we seen already in James’ letter (chapter 1)?

17. How would you characterize the difference between “the Law” (vs.10) and “the law of freedom” (vs.12b)?

18. In your own words, explain the meaning of vs.10.

19. James is concerned for his brothers’ and sisters’ speech and actions (vs.12). Where else in James’ letter have we already seen this need for a deliberate correlation of, and consistency in, Christian speech and action (chapter 1)?

20. Explain James’ statement that “mercy overrules judgment” (vs.13). How exactly is this statement meant to bear on the whole of vs. 1-12?

come let us worship and bow down

“True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.” (James 1:27 CEB)

Think for a moment as to what all we know about God from Scripture. He is no stranger! He has revealed much about himself to us, becoming transparent to us through his own Son on a cross. Still, if we humans are complicated beings, how much more so is God?

And yet, of all that is related through the Bible to us about God, two things stand out: he shows special care to the most vulnerable of society and he is holy. Or to put it another way: God is in the world, but he is not of it.

Now think for a moment as to what it means to worship this God. It’s just not possible to compress all of that thought into just a few words or doings, is it? And yet, we know something stands out when we claim to be devoted worshipers of God: we order our will and our ways after him. We seek to become like him. We deliberately, consistently mimic him.

Now if God is above doing wrong, but is always doing for those who could be most easily wronged, what is your life and mine to be about? Wouldn’t it be growing in our expression of his true helpfulness and pure holiness in the way we live toward others?

There is much to do today, without and within, as we worship him. Let us imitate him. Let us be his pure instruments of social justice, instruments of purity and peace. Come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our God and Maker.

“If a person is honestly sold out to God, they will offer to God the Father genuine worship by helping the helpless, such as orphans and widows, and by purging themselves of this world’s pollution.” (James 1:27 DSV)

Father God, I pray in the name of Jesus. Give me sight and strength today to discern and do something about the needs within me and around me. Today, help me to make your presence known in this world and deliver me from me being sucked into this world’s ways. Amen.

journey through James: October reading

MoSt Church‘s daily reading and Sunday study of the letter of James continues this month. I encourage you to not only read, but reflect on, and pray over each day’s selected passage. The daily reading schedule for October follows. All of the Scripture text that appears below is that of the Common English Bible.

Sat., Oct. 1 – My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. (James 2:1)

Sun., Oct. 2 – Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.” Wouldn’t you have shown favoritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges? (James 2:2-4)

Mon., Oct. 3 – My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? (James 2:5)

Tues., Oct. 4 – But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism? (James 2:6-7)

Wed., Oct. 5 – You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself. (James 2:8)

Thur., Oct. 6 – But when you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker. (James 2:9)

Fri., Oct. 7 – Anyone who tries to keep all of the Law but fails at one point is guilty of failing to keep all of it. The one who said, Don’t commit adultery, also said, Don’t commit murder. So if you don’t commit adultery but do commit murder, you are a lawbreaker. (James 2:10-11)

Sat., Oct. 8 – In every way, then, speak and act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom. There will be no mercy in judgment for anyone who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy overrules judgment. (James 2:12-13)

Sun., Oct. 9 – My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? (James 2:14)

Mon., Oct. 10 – Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity. (James 2:15-17)

Tues., Oct. 11 – Someone might claim, “You have faith and I have action.” But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action. (James 2:18)

Wed., Oct. 12 – It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear. (James 2:19)

Thur., Oct. 13 – Are you so slow? Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all? (James 2:20)

Fri., Oct. 14 – What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions. (James 2:21-22)

Sat., Oct. 15 – So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous. What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend. So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone. (James 2:23-24)

Sun., Oct. 16 – In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute shown to be righteous when she received the messengers as her guests and then sent them on by another road? As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead. (James 2:25-26)

Mon., Oct. 17 – My brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers, because we know that we teachers will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)

Tues., Oct. 18 – We all make mistakes often, but those who don’t make mistakes with their words have reached full maturity. Like a bridled horse, they can control themselves entirely. When we bridle horses and put bits in their mouths to lead them wherever we want, we can control their whole bodies. (James 3:2-3)

Wed., Oct. 19 – Consider ships: they are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder. In the same way, even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts wildly. (James 3:4-5a)

Thur., Oct. 20 – Think about this: a small flame can set a whole forest on fire. The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in us. It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell. (James 3:5b-6)

Fri., Oct. 21 – People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:7-8)

Sat., Oct. 22 – With it [our tongue] we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way! (James 3:9-10)

Sun., Oct. 23 – Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree produce olives? Can a grapevine produce figs? Of course not, and fresh water doesn’t flow from a saltwater spring either. (James 3:11-12)

Mon., Oct. 24 – Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)

Tues., Oct. 25 – However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. (James 3:14-15)

Wed., Oct. 26 – Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. (James 3:16)

Thur., Oct. 27 – What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. (James 3:17)

Fri., Oct. 28 – Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts. (James 3:18)

Sat., Oct. 29 – What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? (James 4:1)

Sun., Oct. 30 – You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask. You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings. (James 4:2-3)

Mon., Oct. 31 – You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? Or do you suppose that scripture is meaningless? (James 4:4-5a)

avoiding worthlessness

“If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless.” (James 1:26 CEB)

“Here I am Father with my checklist. What do you think?”

  1. Read my Bible daily. Check.
  2. Say “grace” before every meal, private or public. Check.
  3. In the church house every time the doors are open and I can be there. Check.
  4. Attend and participate in Bible classes. Check.
  5. Regularly drop a meaningful amount of my income in the contribution plate. Check.
  6. Wear a smile and a deliberately display a pleasant, public demeanor. Check.
  7. Serve as I can, leading prayer, working the nursery, passing communion, greeting guests. Check.
  8. Actively participate in small groups and other ministries. Check.
  9. Volunteering, being quick and eager to do whatever is asked of me by church leaders. Check.
  10. Looking after folks I’ve heard are sick or are in trouble, praying and doing what I can. Check.
  11. Often invite people to come to church with me. Check.
  12. Have done all of the above for years upon years. Check.

“So, Father, how did I do? What’s my score?”

“Zero.”

“What?!”

“Worthless.”

“What on earth do you mean?!”

  1. Your cutting, whispered words in the corridor leave other people bleeding inside.
  2. Your idle talk and gossip cause great, damaging stress to my Son’s body.
  3. Your flattery to try to gain personal advantage feeds the cynicism and skepticism of others.
  4. Your speculative speech and insinuations cause people to cry themselves to sleep at night.
  5. Your dismissive way of speaking to some adds great weight to people’s already heavy burdens.
  6. Your camouflaged insults tears down respect for truly good people.
  7. Your demeaning conversations with your mate has turned their spirit cold, and not just to you.
  8. Your slanderous words about people with whom you disagree, callouses people’s hearts.
  9. Your flippant comments lead others to blindness as to the seriousness of what’s going on.
  10. Your speech that says to your children they never quite measure up sucks the life out of them.
  11. Your colorful language on the job, all in the name of “just doing business,” tarnishes My name.
  12. Your silence when a good word is desperately needed is damning.

“But … but … doesn’t anything I’ve shown you count for anything?”

“My child, what you say, and how you say it, tells me who you are, and whose you really are, down deep inside.”

Heavenly Father, remind me frequently throughout every day of the amazing gift you’ve given me: a tongue that can speak as Jesus spoke. Remind even more often of the even greater gift you’ve given me: a conscience/mind informed by Christ. In the name of my Lord and Savior, help me to always use those two gifts together. Amen.

“People can appear to be devoted to God, but if they don’t keep a tight rein on their words, they’re only tricking themselves if they think their ‘devotion’ is worth anything.” (James 1:26 DSV)

sermon follow-up: welcome his word

“… with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you, the very word that is able to save you.” (James 1:21 CEB)

What are the true necessities of life?

  • Food?
  • Clothing?
  • Shelter?

No, not at all. You’d be better off homeless, naked, and starving than to try to live without what God has to say to you.

Some live naked all of their life. Many live homeless all of their days. Nearly everyone could go a day without eating. But you would be a fool to live a single day without God’s word as your guide.

You must have air to live. How many breaths do you take a day, not even choosing to take a single one? The wind blows how and where it wills and God’s Spirit moves the same, but do you choose to not breathe the breath of heaven?

Scripture conveys God’s speech to you and what is more important than hearing and obeying God? Your growth in the life of God will be proportionate to the time and effort you put into welcoming the word of God into your will and ways. Yes, it can be put that simple.

But there are Christians who don’t welcome God’s life into their will and their ways and rest assured they:

  • have become blind for they are unable to see their own deepest need,
  • have grown lazy, wanting the benefits of relationship but without effort,
  • are souls who have forgotten their Savior and Lord.

However, Christians who welcome God’s word understand:

  • there are no shortcuts in the walk with God,
  • God’s word leads a person to God himself,
  • there is no substitute for hearing God speak to you and seeing him lived out through you.

This door of welcome opens with an attitude and atmosphere of “humility.” Welcoming the word with humility involves constantly reminding yourself of your place in relation to his word: you stand under it, not over it or beside it. You are the host of God’s word, and how you perceive and relate to his word is how you relate to and serve him.

The room of your heart is readied as you sweep aside “all moral filth” and any “growth of wickedness” you see unfitting for this word’s presence. Your good intentions are not right welcome enough; your life must make adjustments. The only way to grasp the essence of Scripture is to live what you learn from it and live it so as to learn it.

“Whoever desires to understand and take delight in the words of Christ must strive to conform his whole life to Him.” (Thomas a Kempis)

Believers who welcome God’s word into their life seek to be comfortable with his word and for his word to be comfortable with them. They ready themselves for this word’s arrival and eagerly look forward to it and this is how they do it:

  • They throw open the doors of their heart and habits and so say, “Make yourself at home; my home is your home.”
  • They are attentive and observant of the word, ready to serve the word they’ve welcomed. They say, “Here, let me get that for you” as the word brings need to light.
  • They welcome the word because they long for presence with God and know that by listening to him and living for him they are saying to the God who speaks to them, “I’m so glad we can spend time together.”

So let me ask you plainly: how are you doing at actively welcoming God’s word into your life? Perhaps you need more time together. C.H. Spurgeon once said:

“There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write ‘damnation’ with your fingers.”

Change that! And here are some ways to do that:

  • Get up a little earlier and start the day reading and praying over the word.
  • Daily memorize a sentence or phrase you can meditate on throughout the day.
  • Check out some of the many Bible reading schedules available online.
  • Try listening to Scripture during your commute, jog, walk with the dog, or exercise.
  • Download a Bible reading app (such as YouVersion or AcroBible) for your smartphone and use it when you’re in “downtime” (like standing in a checkout line at the store).
  • Share a verse each day with others via whatever social networking site you’re into (Facebook, Google+, etc.).
  • Make it a personal project to copy by hand (no typing allowed) a complete book of the Bible (such as James).
  • Over a period of time, commit to perfect memory a select segment or paragraph of the word (such as Philippians 4:8-9 or 2 Peter 1:3-11). Even if you eventually forget how to quote it perfectly, you’ll be astounded how much of it comes to mind and at important times.
  • Deliberately mention something you’ve encountered with the word that day with someone else that same day.
  • Saturate yourself so with his word that you sometimes catch yourself falling asleep in bed thinking about his word and praying to its Author.

Yes, “welcome the word planted deep inside you” for this is “the very word that is able to save you.”