Summary: Christianity is rooted in moving outside of ourselves – to the oppressed and the powerless. If we are going to go where God desires we will need to move outside of ourselves and move into the lives of others. In chapter 2, James provides two illustrations
Outside Of Ourselves
Caring for unwanted children, building hospitals and schools, providing financial assistance to needy families, providing food for the hungry and homes for the homeless, advancing literacy, caring for widows, championing the abolition of slavery, advocating the cause of the oppressed, etc. Who has carried the responsibility for these actions? Let me give you a hint – apart from the last century, these services were not provided by any government. These acts of compassion were the acts of the church throughout history.
However, in the 19th century, scholars began, based on an empirical mindset, believing that all that is true can be reproduced and observed in a laboratory, a move away from Jesus as the miracle-working, resurrected Son of God.
By the early 20th century, these scholars moved Christianity away from the historical divinity of Christ. They decided that the gospel was all about serving and loving our fellowman. So these Christians placed their emphasis on demonstrating the love of God to others through acts of service.
In response, other churches, which retained the Biblical divinity of Christ, became suspicious of social action, and determined that their efforts would be exclusively sharing the evangelistic message of the gospel. From that point, many Evangelicals have been suspicious of Christians who attach socially responsible service with a clear presentation of the message of Christ.
But is this divide between acts of compassion and the spoken message a Biblical clash. Listen to the following verses:
“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan.” (Exodus 22:21-22)
“Bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the … aliens, the fatherless, and the widow’s who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied.” (Deut 14:28-29)
“Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)
“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy…” (Psa 82:3-4a)
God even describes himself as “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psa 68:5)
Christianity is not an individual faith. Christianity is rooted in moving outside of ourselves – to the oppressed and the powerless. If we are going to go where God desires we will need to move outside of ourselves and move into the lives of others.
“Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us.” (James 1:27)
An unblemished religion is one weds a transformed life with social action – a life outside of ourselves.
“One test of pure religion, therefore, is the degree to which we extend aid to the ‘helpless’ in our world – whether they are widows and orphans, immigrants trying to adjust to a new life, impoverished third-world dwellers, the handicapped, or the homeless.” (Moo, p. 97)
In chapter 2, James provides two illustrations that help to define how we live a life outside of ourselves. The first illustration teaches us that -
1. We need to move outside of our prejudice,
“My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim that you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people more than others? For instance, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in shabby clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, ‘You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor’ – well, doesn’t this discrimination show that you are guided by wrong motives?” (James 2:1-4)
NASB – “Do not hold your faith … with an attitude of favoritism”. James’ way of putting the matter makes clear that discriminating against people is inconsistent with true faith in Christ.”
Favoritism, literally ‘receiving the face’, is a Christianization of a Hebrew term for partiality. To ‘receive the face’ means to make judgments about people based on external appearance. What do we call that? – Discrimination.
The space that James devotes to this matter in his letter suggests that discrimination was a problem among his readers.
James applies this principle to differences in dress that reflect contrasting social/economic situations.
“Shabby” is a word from the same root as the word James used in 1:21 to characterize the sinful ‘filth’ that Christians must put off. The image James conjures up is of the typical homeless person in our day, dressed in mismatched, stained, and smelly rags.
“Special attention” can mean simply “look at” but often has the connotation of “look at with favor”, “have regard for”. The situation is clear enough: Christians in positions of some authority in the community are fawning over the rich.