Friday

03 February 2017

“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 99

The Methodist Church's Bible Month this year focuses on the letter of James. It takes place in June, although churches and circuits may choose a different time if that is more convenient. For more information (including training and resources), go to www.methodist.org.uk/biblemonth.

Background

The letter of James now addresses an aspect of human nature to which few are immune - judging by appearances and favouring the rich and powerful. The connection is also developed between how people behave and what they believe. Indeed, in the opening verse the link could not be set out much more bluntly; your behaviour is such that it begs the question whether you believe at all!

It is not difficult to detect the stinging rebuke contained within this question - and no doubt it has not just been the original recipients of the letter who have squirmed with discomfort on reading it. How very easy it is look up to wealthy people dressed in all their finery - and look down on poor people, possibly in their dirty and dishevelled clothes. Whilst it is true that as a society we have become less deferential over the last generation or two, those who live in poverty continue to be marginalised and undervalued.

Whilst this is reprehensible in any community, in the Church it strikes at the very heart of what Christians purport to believe. God has no favourites - or if any 'bias' can be detected at all it is to the poor, in their suffering and struggle - "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" ' (Matthew 5:3). And, "Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?" (v. 5).

What a challenge it is to us to discover that in those areas of our country which government statistics define as most deprived the Church is much less prevalent. Are we in danger of 'dishonouring the poor' (verse 6) through our structures as well as in our personal relationships? Both are unacceptable and challenge our practice - and fundamentally question what we believe about God. Actually it is more than that, if, in this regard, we have "made distinctions among [y]ourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts" (v. 4) we undermine and discredit all that we proclaim. The most powerful evidence in support of what we believe is what we do.


To Ponder

  • If reading this passage makes you feel uncomfortable, reflect on why and what you might do about it.
  • In what ways does your church or the wider Church show 'favouritism' and how might this be addressed?
  • What does the way you live your life - or the life and activity of your church - reveal about what you believe about God?


Bible notes author:  The Revd Graham Jones

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