Category Archives: Tested Faith: A Study of James

James 2:4-The Year Not Everybody Gets a Valentine

IMG_0145James 2:4  Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? (emphasis added)

There are certain things I do miss about high-school, but being there on valentines day definitely isn’t one of them.

Now please understand my issue isn’t with valentines day itself. I happen to be a single man in his late-thirties but there is no bitterness in my heart about the holiday…it’s high-school turning it into a popularity contest that bothered me.

From kindergarten to second or third grade the general rule was you give valentines to everyone in the classroom (extra points if you included those candy hearts).  As students neared jr-high age though they began reserving valentines for those who they thought deserved it.  Of course you had a valentine reserved for that “special friend” but it wasn’t uncommon to give notes, chocolate, or other cool stuff to friends.

In a way that first year where not everybody got a valentine was the beginning of a very big change. No longer would everyone get things (yearbook signing, party invitation, sit with you at lunch, ect) but only people viewed as “cool”

Now the good news is there are different ideas about what it means to be cool, so no matter who you are, your guaranteed to be viewed as cool by a group of people.  The bad news is everybody knows the basic qualifications to being cool (good looking, athletic, smart, popular, outgoing) and anyone who doesn’t fit those shouldn’t expect a pile of valentines on his or her desk.

And the worst news?  That popularity contest view of life doesn’t end with high-school. 

My biggest issue with the high-school popularity contest is that it makes each person a judge-or someone who decides what other people get.  And they have a mental checklist to decide what people deserve.

  1. Can this person do something to help me?
  2. Is this someone who will make me look good?
  3. Will people make fun of me if I hang out with them?
  4. What things do they need from me?
  5. Are they good looking, athletic, smart?

What happens if this individual doesn’t get enough checks on our mental list?  Sorry but you don’t deserve my respect and friendship.

Thankfully life isn’t a popularity contest, and often those who don’t look or act cool exhibit more talent and ability than those who we judge worthy.

But that doesn’t keep us from making it into one…and making sure we decide who gets a valentine.

James 2:3-The Naughty Chair, and a Place of Dishonor

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James 2:3  And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:

James in this chapter continues the idea of a religion that cares for those who cannot defend themselves (orphans and widows) in 1:27 by confronting the sin of partiality.  This means we make decisions about people based upon their outer looks or what they can give us (James 2:2) which contradicts the Gospel that gives to us what we don’t deserve (James 2:1).

To illustrate his point James tells the story (which may have actually happened) of a rich and poor man who visited Church.  Yesterday I touched on the sinful act of making decisions about a person based on their outer appearance, but the sin is greater in chapter two verse three where Believers acted on these perceptions of people.

The rich man in this story is given a place of great honor (probably place at head of the table) and the poor are instructed to either stand in the corner (far away from a place of honor at the table) or sit on the floor showing great dishonor.

Reading this verse in a way reminds me of the naughty chair. Now those of you who have experience working with children know exactly what I’m talking about, but for those who don’t this is a chair that you place strategically in the back of room, away from any other child (and the fun).  It’s reserved for the boy or girl who won’t listen or obey and after warnings are told to sit in the naughty chair.

I have seen rooms full of children go from chaos to well-behaved because a teacher put a chair in the back of the room.  I’ve seen a disobedient student cling to their chair and BEG not to be sent to the back.  And I’ve seen them break out in tears and promise to be good if Mr. John gave them one more chance…just don’t put them in the naughty chair!

This chair is actually a strong form of punishment (which is why children get warnings first) but instead of physical it happens to be emotional, and sometimes even psychological.  Kids don’t want to be in the naughty chair because it separates them from the fun, but in a deeper sense it’s the humiliation they dread more.

  • That slow walk to the back while everyone stares at you
  • Those looks they give you during class
  • The fact that EVERYONE knows EXACTLY why you are there (disobeying)
  • And anyone who walked into that room without knowing anything that went on would immediately realize that child in the back hadn’t been obeying

In other words the naughty chair is a place of great dishonor

Because of this it’s very important for me and other teachers to make sure someone deserves to sit in the naughty chair before sending them to the back of the room. And we have instituted a three warning system.

  1. Because a child who doesn’t listen to the first warning may not be paying attention
  2. The child who doesn’t listen to the second may be sitting friends who are being silly
  3. The child who receives a third (and final) warning may enjoy making everyone else laugh a little too much
  4. But only a child whose truly disobedient will ignore all three

Now lets apply this to James 2:3 shall we?

While there definitely wasn’t a naughty chair in the Jewish culture or early church, there was a place for those who deserved the least honor.  According to James the Church in this situation told the poor man to immediately take the place of least honor (sit in the corner or on the floor) without even bothering to find out what kind of person they are.

This would be like my saying to a child who wore a ripped t-shirt, that’s it!  Go to the naughty chair right now because we all know your going to be trouble!

This is about more about humiliation though since James later in this chapter says God gives greater honor to the poor (James 2:4-5) because of what’s in THEIR HEART.  So in the eyes of God, a place of honor is reserved for those who have true character, and the place of dishonor for those who have none.

Truthfully the whole world is filled with naughty chairs (places of dishonor) and most of them are occupied by people we don’t think deserve honor (more on that tomorrow).  But if we look past the outer exterior or things that they don’t have and start focusing on their heart, we will realize these are people who definitely deserve a place at the table.

James 2:2-A White Dress and a Bob Marley T-shirt

KevJames 2:2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;

Yesterday morning a brother and sister came to visit during the morning Church service.  She wore a beautiful white dress, while he had a Bob Marley shirt on.  I happen to know that they are a poor family and he is the only boy (sure the dress had been worn by her older sisters) but it was still hard to keep my mind from making generalizations as he walked in.

Even more dangerous is the fact that my mind started placing both of them in categories (kinds of people) based on what they were wearing.

That girl is wearing a pretty white dress…we won’t have any trouble with her

Is he wearing a Bob Marley shirt?  Better keep an eye on that one!

The thing is I know that boy very well

  1. He comes by my house every day begging to hear a Bible story (preferably about David)
  2. He was incredibly excited about being at Church yesterday, and gave me no trouble at all
  3. Greets me every time they walk by my house
  4. Is literally starving for the love or attention of others
  5. And has an honest desire to learn more about God

The New Testament Church in Jerusalem was struggling with the tendency to categorize people based on their outer appearance which eventually affected the way they treated those individuals (James 2:3).  In this case a rich man with great power or honor was contrasted with a poor man who had no power whatsoever.  The division may have gone something like this.

The rich man:

  • A man who deserves honor from us
  • A man who can help us in some way/has something we need
  • A man who deserves to have a position of authority

The poor man:

  • A man who is going to dishonor us by his presence
  • A man who can’t help at all, and will probably want things from us
  • A man who should be kept as far away from people as possible

The danger with this of course is a person is much more than the outer clothing.

That little boy probably wore the best shirt he had/or favorite shirt to Church because he knew it was an important occasion

He will keep coming with his sister every week to learn more about God

And visits the Pastor’s (my) house every chance he can get to hear Bible stories about David

Would I rather he wear something other than a Bob Marley t-shirt to Church?  Yes of course.  But the important thing isn’t what this boy wears, the important thing is the condition of his heart.

James 2:1-The High School Lunch Table for Adults

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James 2:1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.

I personally enjoyed my high-school years but would not go back through them for all the money in the world.  It wasn’t because high-school was too stressful (life’s much worse now) or the classwork, or even the apparent lack of athletic ability that would keep me from going back.

It’s the lunch table…to be more specific its finding a group of friends to sit with at the lunch table.

Now for most of us the trauma of this experience has been forgotten but go back to high-school with me for a moment.  Feel free to put on your letter jacket, or find your retainer.

You start with the nerd/geek table on the outer edges of the cafeteria, followed by the funny kids table (also known as the party table), athletes table, JV athletes table (haven’t earned a seat quite yet), and in the center of course you have the cool kids table.  From there you have the math club table, the scary people table, the new kid table, and on the farthest end is the table for everyone else.

Three guesses where I sat..

Eventually my personality and ability to entertain got me a spot at the party table, but not till after I had eaten many grilled-cheese and tomato soup lunches with the other outcasts.

The worst part of lunch wasn’t necessarily walking to my table but walking past the other tables, and seeing the expressions on their faces.

  • Don’t even think about sitting here man
  • This seats taken (along with the six beside it)
  • That’s right, keep walking
  • The look of shock on the face of those teenagers as I even looked towards their table (much less look at it) was sickening

Well thankfully we’re past that kind of childish behavior now

Or are we?

Of course we don’t have the clearly marked tables for different groups to sit at, but don’t kid yourself.  Cliques are very much alive and well.  The only difference is we have created different divisions of people in our mind and subconsciously become a part of the group that fits us best.  This doesn’t mean if I wanted to spend time with another group (say guys who love basketball) but it would usually lead to some uncomfortable situations, so I stay in my own group.

There is a more dangerous side to this because I find myself without even thinking about it organizing people into groups or cliques based on their outer appearance or personality.

Oh that guys an athlete

He must be a nerd (I use that term with great respect)

A cool kid if I ever saw one

Now my evaluations are usually correct based on their responses to life and how they act.  But often I find myself following up with that evaluation with action.  In other words I will treat the nerd differently subconsciously than the cool kid because that’s closer to my personality type.

This is favoritism (treating someone different from someone else because of their outer life) and it’s sin.

Trying to understand the differences between ourselves and others is fine.  But when a set of cafeteria tables is set up in our mind and part of us says to people “don’t even think about sitting here” then we have a problem.

 

James 1:27-Evaluating a Physical Need Before You Meet It

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James 1:27  Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

James 1:27 happens to be one of those verses used by people who believe Christianity should be characterized by love for the unsaved and meeting physical needs.  In their opinion our ministries should be about giving to the poor, defending the abused, feeding they hungry, and fighting injustice in the world.

Now to be honest I have no problem with Churches making things like this a priority but our main priority should be preaching the Gospel of Christ, and discipleship of Believers. However James 1:27 makes it seem as if the Gospel should take a back seat to meeting physical needs.

Because of this confusion it’s important to keep a few things in mind

  1. We are to evaluate the needs of those who are in need of help
  2. This is to be offered those who cannot help themselves (orphans and widows)
  3. And it’s only done in time of extreme need (affliction)

It’s interesting to note that the word “visit” in James 1:27 comes from the Greek word ἐπισκέπτομαι  which is translated as “1980. ἐπισκέπτομαι middle voice from 1909 and the base of 4649; to inspect, i.e. (by implication) to select; by extension, to go to see, relieve: — look out, visit.” (emphasis added, from Strongs Exhaustive Concordance)

In other words this visiting wasn’t necessarily to meet needs (though this was probably done at the time) but to inspect those who had needs, and select specific ones to help.

Sadly in todays culture it’s necessary to inspect those who say that they have needs.  I’m not saying that those needs aren’t legitimate, but the Church and Christians must be wise about WHICH NEEDS they minister to since the needy will always be with us.  Therefore we ask questions, examine, and decide which of the needs is greatest, or which one is most deserved.

Notice also that James specifically says this should go towards people who aren’t in many cases able to care for themselves…orphans and widows.  Of course it is possible for them to meet their own needs, but it’s much more difficult for children deprived of their parent, or a wife deprived of husband and family to do so.  This goes against the idea that we should help every need, and also strengthens he need for evaluation (we learn if they truly are widows or orphans).

Finally this ministry is in their affliction (2347. θλίψις from 2346; pressure (literally or figuratively): — afflicted(-tion), anguish, burdened, persecution, tribulation, trouble).  In most cases referring to a crushing pressure (something that is crushing them emotionally).  It’s true that these times of immense pressure come into the lives of those around us, but it’s not as often as we may think.

The bottom line is yes we as Christians need to help those in need around us…but also ask ourselves some very important questions.

  1. What is it about this need that makes it greater than others?
  2. Is his person someone who cannot care for their own needs easily?
  3. And are the going through a time of affliction?

James 1:27 has become very special to me during my time on the island because as an American everyone views me as rich.  This creates a problem since there are many people here who have needs (food, money) and will come to me for help with them (I wrote an article about yesterday on the blog that explains this issue in more detail.)

The many needs along with my limited income, and the fact that some people on the island have interest in working or helping themselves have led me to evaluating the needs of those who come to me.

Monday evening while walking home a lady from at a nearby shop called me over and asked for help with her baby.  Being a single mother I was interested in helping her by giving a bit of money but she said “know I want you to go in and buy the milk.”  I kept offering her money but she continued demanding I go in and buy it which was confusing.  Finally I asked the woman how much the milk was, and she told me $50.  On the island people try to get you to promise that you’ll do something, and then hold you to it, her plan of course was to get me to promise to buy the milk without knowing the cost instead of providing $4 or $5.

The world is filled with people who are looking to be enabled (have their needs met) without doing any work.  This is why we must listen closely to the warning of James and make sure we evaluate needs.

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