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Book of James: Week 3



My grandmother took me to the same church, with the same pastor until I was 9 years old. If I heard “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” once I heard it a 100 times. My grandmother would quote him to me and anyone that would listen repeatedly. My grandmother was a hard-working widow who grew up during the depression in the dust bowl of Oklahoma so self-sufficiency was her brand. Imagine my surprise when I found out (as a young adult) that Ben Franklin is credited with that quote in his Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1736 but it appears he got it from Algernon Sidney the 1600s. It can be found no where in the Bible - or any sentiment closely related to it.


This sentiment has prevailed through out time to where it is still echoed in 2024. Even those that identify with Christ and wear the label of Christian proudly, pick and choose who is deemed worthy of deserving our assistance. 


All throughout scripture - God lifted the lowly and, in fact sends Jesus to to do that very work, not with military might or worldly control but with holy and divine power from God through a transformation of their lives in the Spirit. God loves his people deeply and wants to care for them; AND calls us to care for them, as well.


In today’s passage, James was delivering a strong pastoral message to the Jewish Christians that had been scattered by persecution following Jesus’ life, crucifixion and ascension. 


The realities of living a life of oppression and the fear of being persecuted causes one seek safety that they feel can only be can be found within a powerful protector. At that point in history, with Jesus “gone,” finding security in those that possessed wealth and power seemed to make sense. When those people, often sent by the Roman government to monitor what exactly was being taught in the gatherings of Christians, - were they being subversive to the roman government  - showed up in their finery and their lavish appearance giving off an air of power and control; they were given the best seats in the house and treated with great partiality. This treatment left those that had humbly come seeking the love of God given through the grace offered in Christ to sit in the cheap seats and often overlooked and disempowered.


God has sent Jesus to fulfill the plan unfolded as far back as the days of prophets, they told everyone that God would lift the poor and in God they could find their protection, safety and life; a life in a new kingdom made by God not by man. The prophets told and Jesus reiterated that God gives special favor to the lowly whom will be raised up and the new kingdom would be given to them.


As a young adult seeking to truly understand Christ’s teaching, but repeating the words of my Grandmother…during a bible study..I was quickly directed to the Beatitudes found recorded by Mathew in his Gospel exactly what Gods plan for this kingdom was.


Those that are blessed are the poor in spirit, in mourning, meek, who care enough for others to hunger and thirst for righteousness, who show mercy, whose hearts are pure, who seek to make peace, and especially those who are persecuted - they will find comfort, mercy and will see God  and THEIRS is the kingdom of heaven.

James was speaking to the new groups of those gathered , the ekklesia,- called out for a special purpose to work together to live out their faith in Christ Jesus through works of mercy for the poor:

  • Poor in spirit

  • Poor in resources

  • Poor in earthly power

  • Poor in status

  • Poor in countenance.

  • Poor in security and safety


…reminding these Christ followers to remember the standard set by Jesus -

You will never look upon someone God does not love; a love that is

Unconditional

Holy

Transformative


The same love is given to us by God. A love that flows to us, 

not after we clean up your lives, 

not from a place of us earning it by our actions, 

or even in spite of our flaws. 


God’s love for the creation is a love that Is a love that overcomes, redeems, reclaims and transforms us…and everyone else…by God’s hand. Receiving that love is the first step to giving that very holy love to others. 


The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, called those that lived with holiness of heart and life, with a faith that is working and alive in the world an “Altogether Christian;” An altogether Christian is someone who has moved from the head knowledge of a Jewish rabbi that achieved a great following due to the wonderful miracles he performed and the sacrifice he made for us to someone with a faith that calls us to lift up the lowly as we have been lifted - not pander to the wealthy by showing them partiality.


James literally calls treating some people better than others - showing favoritism or partiality a sin. The Greek word “praw suh praw-lemp see uh” means to judge others due to outward appearance as opposed to the merits of simply being a child of God.  James is telling those gathered under the name of Christ that it is a sin to judge in this fashion reminding them that God cares for the lowly and they shall receive the new kingdom. 


Don’t we all want to be accepted even when we don’t measure up?


Many people will seek acceptance and when they are turned away by the very people called to accept them, lift them up, even offer protection. And they will seek that acceptance elsewhere,  away from God who offers a love that fills all our broken places.


Jesus gave the commandment to Love God with everything you have and love others in the same fashion you love yourself. 


The placement of the love we give and the fashion in which we live out the love we give could be the key to avoiding the sin of partiality.


What does it mean to love God with all our heart - our soul - our mind and our strength? 


It means we put God first in our lives - seeking to live in the image of God - the image we were created. 


It means we seek to carry out what God had in mind for us - to live a life of holiness, lift the lowly


It means we seek to co-labor with God to bring about a new, better place for all to live that allows all to come and seek the glory and love of God.


Co-laboring means - we don’t “allow” for good things to happen to good people - it means we work to help create good things for all people.


Loving ourselves could be part of the problem. How can we love others as we love ourselves if we have a maladjusted way we love ourselves. 


Loving ourselves can be seen as a spectrum. 


If we struggle to love who we are - who we have become - who God created in us - we will struggle to love others any better way. Or the love we show others could be rooted in the love we wish we could give ourselves often resulting in disappointment when we give and give love and don’t receive love in return - love we should be receiving for ourselves that if initiated in God.


The other end of the spectrum is a type of self-love that eclipses one’s ability to show love for others and even blocks the love God offers through Christ. Self focused, self love can be described as “naval gazing.” In other words - being turned inwardly - so focused our our needs, wants, priorities and goals that we overlook the needs of anyone and everyone else.


Most of us fall somewhere on this spectrum and probably move back and forth towards either position. We have to find love in ourselves to know what that love looks like to give love and acceptance to others. Being focused on loving ourselves over any one else can also begin to eclipse showing love for others. Somewhere in the middle is a better place and that place is found in the love we receive from God.


Actually accepting the grace given to us by God through Christ lived out through the Spirit for the imperfections layered upon us over time -  KNOWING that we ARE truly forgiven gives us the power and the passion to go and give that very same love and acceptance to others. So often we think we know that Jesus loves us - I mean the song tells us that the Bible tells us so - but do we feel it or is it just head knowledge?


Is it possible that we may even be showing partiality in a way to ourselves. Do we drive ourselves to be wealthy - powerful - and a person of status rather than being confident in our status of being a child of God, finding abundance in what is provided us through that holy love, and allow the power of the Spirit flow through us to others.


When we lift others - we ourselves are lifted. When we accept others - we ourselves receive acceptance - when we connect with people of God - all of God’s resources are multiplied and glorified and are lavishly poured upon us.


Former president John F. Kennedy described it this way. A rising tide lifts all boats. When we lift others we encounter Jesus in “the other” and we ourselves are lifted. 


James saw this in real time from the sidelines as he did not know WHO his brother was until after his resurrection. I believe it drove him harder and more passionately for others to see - to know - to believe -God’s reality brought forth in Christ in all he encountered. That no one deserved a better position than others and that all are found equal at the foot of the cross.

And that the Spirit that lives within us and among us, the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead, will give the living faith we need to lift the tide of grace, mercy and justice for everyone.



Discipleship Guide James - Week 3
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