May 17, 2012 by Dwight Bernier
“Faith apart from works is dead”.
How would you feel reading that every morning as you sipped your warm beverage of preference? How many of you cross-stitch people are anxious for the opportunity to bust that out as your next project?
Many of us are familiar with that piece of Scripture in the second chapter of James. Probably at some point, you have tried to actually figure out what James is talking about in this passage. Maybe some of you have spent countless hours working this through with Mormons or other works-based religions that bank so much of their “faith” upon their works.
What is interesting and often overlooked (as it was by me) is the context that this section of Scripture providentially fits into. The Holy Spirit caused James to jump into unpacking faith and works after talking to Christians about the sin of partiality. Seriously? Partiality is what this text about faith and works flows from? I know. I thought that it would be something major like abortion or drinking or sexual sin or anything else. But the Holy Spirit and James think that partiality is a pretty big deal.
For the Christians in the first century, they would have both rich and poor come into their gatherings and communities. It would be easier, as it is today, to pay attention and get close to the ones who smell nice, have clean clothes on, can provide some money for the offering, and for the most part be dignified. It is easier to give them a good seat and to invite them to keep coming back. These are the people we want to keep happy. Let’s be honest (or I will), we would choose these people over those who are poor, dressed in shabby clothing, have an odor, and who take much more than they give. Typically, in church settings, the rich are less “messy”.
But James tells us that when we make these distinctions, we become judges with evil thoughts (2.4). He then goes on to tell us that God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom (2.5). For those of us who are partial toward the rich, James charges us with dishonoring the poor.
Why do we want a certain type of person in our church gatherings?
What causes us to desire for certain types of people to be in our missional communities?
In a recent discussion with a friend, we both realized that Jesus is breaking our ideas of what mission and community in this city looks like. As we talked, we had to work through the stuff that we don’t necessarily “like” about what Jesus has called us to. But we had to be reminded again that it’s not about us. Being partial to the rich, poor, French, English, hipsters, students, elderly, teenagers, married, singles will draw us away from loving our neighbor as ourselves. Partiality will always drive us toward what we want and who we want around us. But Jesus calls us to love the one we’re with (in a very different way than the Crosby, Stills and Nash song). He placed them there for you to minister to.
Don’t look for the church where everyone is like you. Don’t look for the mission that you feel most comfortable with. Live in community and on mission with the people that Jesus has brought for you to minister to and to be ministered by. Jesus will change you by using these people.
The faith that you have received, by grace, is being shown in acts of impartiality which mimics the call of the gospel to whomever would believe. May we turn and repent of the areas of our lives that are filled with partiality and turn back to the One who gives grace to any who will seek Him. And may the world see these works and glorify our Father who is in heaven and believe that He will welcome them too.