Monday, February 17, 2014

When the Needy Leave Still Needy

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.  For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thought?  Listen, my beloved brethren:  Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?  But you have dishonored the poor man.  Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?  Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?  If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors...For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.     James 2:1-13

I thought I understood what these scriptures meant.  It's quite simple, really:  In our churches we shouldn't make such a fuss over wealthy Christians.  Right?  Uh-no.  Thank goodness I decided to do a little research first before writing the blog.

One of my go-to-books is Hard Sayings of the Bible with several biblical scholars as the authors.  The book states that the rich folks referenced in James, chapters two and five, actually refer to wealthy Jews who were not believers.  The evidence that they weren't believers had to do with their wealth.  At that time, the Christians had "all things in common" meaning they pooled all their resources together while also concerning themselves with the poor.  These were "fruits" of their conversion.

Rich, Jewish non-believers were showing up in the assembly place.  "Assembly" here means synagogue so more than likely in the early life of the church they were still meeting in synagogues while also upholding some of the traditions such as having honor seats for special guests.  It isn't clear why the rich were going to the meetings - possibly out of curiosity or because they vainly enjoyed the attention perhaps.

The problem was those rich folks being fawned over had no intention of converting to Christianity.  Some even took the poor Christians to court exploiting them in taking what little money they did have.  As a result, the rich became richer.  Not only that James specifically said they blasphemed Jesus' name.  They took the precious name of Jesus and trampled on it not even caring that the name they spoke was higher than any other.

Application of God's Word:

1.  By giving the rich unbelievers the places of honor the church leadership was condoning their behavior toward the poor believers.  James said that by doing this they dishonored the poor.  The manner in which they treated the poor was contrary to Jesus' teachings.  One of Jesus' greatest commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself.  Who is your neighbor?  According to the parable of the Good Samaritan it is anyone who has a need.  By not following Jesus' command they were guilty of disobedience.

2.  The saddest part in all of this is no one took notice of the poor or their sad state of existence, except maybe to judge them for their poverty and filthiness.  Neither God's grace nor love were extended.  No hope or encouragement were given.  The poor came into these meetings needy but left just as needy because they were being ignored.

Personal Matters:

Since I don't know too many rich folks - believers or nonbelievers - then it's probably true I don't make a fool of myself tripping over the poor to get to the ridiculously rich.  And yet, I have been guilty of making a big fuss over an "it" couple or person who were quite charismatic.  They seemed to have it all together, outgoing, personality plus, dressed nicely, get it...all those surface things we clump together to measure "success."  At the same time, how often have those "less desirables" come into the assembly and I've not reached out to them even though they are needy because it's none of my business or I'm too busy right now or I don't know how to help them or they're those kind of people or well, you get the picture.  I've tripped over them all right...trying to get as far away from them as possible.

Sure wish I could breathe a deep sigh of relief declaring myself not guilty on this one but I'd only be deceiving myself.  There have been times over the years when those whom I would deem "less desirable" have crossed my path at church and I've not reached out to them.  In fact, I've probably recoiled and went the other way a few times.  Lord, have mercy on my soul!  If I want Him to show me mercy then according to verse 13 I need to show mercy.  "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment."  Every time.

The best thing I can do right now is be honest with the Lord, confess where I've refused to reach out to someone in need because I've judged them wrongly, ask the Lord to forgive me and ask the Holy Spirit to do an inward work in my spirit (how many times have I used THAT phrase since beginning this study?) giving me a heart of compassion like Jesus'.

A song we used to sing probably 30-40 years ago comes to mind but seems quite appropriate:

To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus
All I ask is to be like Him.
All through life's journey
From earth to glory
All I ask is to be like Him.

Jesus never once showed partiality.  He never welcomed some while ignoring others.  He loved His neighbors and expressed compassion without recoiling or withholding mercy from them.  When the needy came to Jesus, they didn't leave still needy.  They left changed and whole and healed and delivered and encouraged and filled with hope.  May those who come into our assembly needy not leave in the same condition they entered.  May Jesus in us be the hope of glory they so desperately need.

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