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The Sin of Partiality

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Just before the heart of his letter (2:14-26), James blends the dual themes of wisdom and working faith in outlining the sin of partiality (2:1-13). James describes what it means to be “partial” in 2:1: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.”

 

At the outset, he draws the reader’s attention to “our” Lord, a possessive word, meaning Jesus is ours because He has given Himself to us and for us and we have accepted him as our, “glorious Lord.” Describing Jesus as “Lord” (or master) would highlight our need to emulate and obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9) while describing Him as “glorious” would remind us that Jesus defeated death and is reigning as King Most High. How can we “hold” our “faith” in such a “glorious Lord” while treating people with personal favoritism when our “glorious Lord” never did?

Another theme that James revisits several times in his letter is the disparity between the rich and poor and how, generally speaking, the rich hold the poor in contempt (1:9-11; 5:1-6). Here (2:1-13) James puts forth a hypothetical situation (“if” 2:2) wherein the believer has the perfect opportunity to exercise his wisdom and faith. Not only is it against wisdom to play favorites in the brotherhood but this kind of discrimination is also against God’s law, thereby violating faith in Jesus.

There are three ways in which James gives his reproof against the sin of partiality.

 

Preferring the wealthy over the poor shows a complete disregard for Jesus (2:1-7). James calls those who make such distinctions “judges with evil motives” (2:4). In fact, it was the rich who usually oppressed poor believers (5:1-7), dragging them to court and even blaspheming the name of Jesus (2:6-7). To favor a wealthy man over a poor man for whatever reason not only dishonors “the fair name by which you were called” (2:7) but also dishonors “the poor man” whom God chose to be “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (2:5). Jesus came to make the poor rich (2 Cor. 8:9), not financially but spiritually, and those who wear the name of Jesus ought to have that same attitude of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the less fortunate (2 Cor. 6:10).

 

Preferring the wealthy over the poor shows a complete disregard for the Law (2:8-11). Who said Christians are not under Law? We certainly are! Part of being citizens in a kingdom necessitates that there be a law. Christ, who sits at the right hand of God, is King making the words that issue from His throne a “royal law” (2:8). If we are to be a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9) then we must abide by our King’s “royal law” which is summed up, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving others unconditionally as God has loved us is a theme repeatedly emphasized by Jesus (Mt. 22:34-40; Jn. 13:34-35) and his disciples after Him (Rom. 13:8-10). Partiality is the polar opposite of our King’s command to love. So people who play favorites in the kingdom violate the very foundation of the law of the Kingdom and, in effect, have “become guilty of all” that the Law teaches (2:10).

Preferring the wealthy over the poor shows a complete disregard for the Judgment (2:12-13). Lastly, James warns his audience to “so speak and so act,” that is, love in word and deed (1 Jn. 3:18), “as those who are judged by the law of liberty” (2:12). The law that Christ delivered was unlike the Mosaic Law in that Christ’s law actually liberates men from their sins instead of enslaving them in their sins (Rom. 8:1-2ff). Yet we need to be careful how we use that freedom. Paul warns the Galatians not to “turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” in the very context of loving one another (Gal. 5:13-14). We need to live by this law of liberty and of love because, in the end, we will be judged by it (2:13; Lk. 6:37-38). Our mercy for one another (2:13), or lack of it, will be returned to us in the judgment (Mt. 5:7; 6:14-15; 25:34-40), which is why God said long ago, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Hos. 6:6; Mt. 9:13; 12:7).

Brethren, let us live to honor our “glorious Lord Jesus” (2:1-7), respect His “royal law of love” (2:8-11) and live in view of the eternal judgment (2:12-13). There may be a brother or a sister in the assembly that, for whatever reason, you don’t necessarily get along with. Remember the command to love him or her still stands and your salvation is in the balance. Time and time again, the Scriptures explicitly point out that God does not give special treatment to one individual over another. Peter once stated, “...God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34; cf. Jn. 9:31). “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11).

What is Atheism?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

“Atheism” comes from a combination of two Greek words, or rather, one letter and another word. The Greek letter “A” (pronounced alpha) means negative. Combine that with “theos” (theism) for god, a-theism means literally “negative god” or “anti-god” or “there is no god.”

 

It is important to understand that the atheist is not saying, “I don’t think there is a god” or even “I don’t believe there is a god.” The Atheist is affirming the non-existence of God. He is affirming, what philosophy calls, an “absolute negative.” Anyone who took an introductory course in philosophy will tell you this is an untenable philosophical position. Atheism is a logical contradiction.

 

Think about it. How can anyone affirm a negative in the absolute? It would be like me saying, “There is not a white stone with black spots anywhere in the galaxies of this universe.” That is affirming an absolute negative. The only way I can affirm that negative is if I had absolute, unlimited knowledge of the entire universe. Yet when a person says “there is no God,” that is exactly what he is claiming.

 

But atheism is nothing new. David pointed out 3,000 years ago that “the fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”” (Psa. 14:1) Indeed, it is the height of arrogance and folly to claim to know with certainty that there is no God. Many people, recognizing that theism is a self-defeating philosophy, backpedal and ascribe to something called “agnosticism.”

 

“Agnosticism” comes from the Greek letter “A” (negative) and “gnostos,” which means knowledge. Agnosticism means “negative knowledge” or “anti-knowledge” or “there is no knowledge.” Agnosticism is really easy to defend. All you have to prove is that you don’t know!

 

But let’s qualify that statement: it is equally foolish to say, “I know that I can’t know” than it is to say “I know everything.” Is this not also self-defeating? If you don’t know, how can you know you don’t know?!

 

One way to address both beliefs is with a question: what if the atheist or agnostic is wrong? What if a person has lived with the conviction that there is no God or that they couldn’t know if He exists and he comes to death only to find out he was wrong?

 

Blaise Pascal responded in this way: “Should a man be in error in supposing the Christian religion to be true, he could not be a loser by mistake. But how irreparable is his   loss and how inexpressible is his danger who should err in supposing it to be false.”

 

Pascal isn’t saying he believes there is a chance he could be wrong about God and the Bible. He is simply making the point, from a philosophical perspective, how bad of a deal atheism is. If the atheist is wrong about God, how terrible are the consequences of his disbelief? He would meet God in the judgment with no excuse (Rom. 1:20).

 

But, hypothetically, if Christianity turns out to be a scam and there is no judgment or reward (which, again, Pascal is not affirming), what exactly has he lost living as a Christian? He has found life to be worth the living. He found the kind of joy, purpose and satisfaction that all philosophy strives to attain. Thankfully, there is a God, He is alive; in Him we live and we survive!

Refusal to Listen

Thursday, August 24, 2017

One of the most prominent commands in the Bible is to “listen” to God. We see the primacy of listening to God’s word in the prayer the Jews called the “Shema” (which means ‘listen’) in Deuteronomy 6:5-6 which Jesus quotes as the single greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37: Hear (“shema”), O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!   You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all   your soul and with all your might.

 

In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, God told him to “stand in the gate of the LORD’s house” so that Judah could “hear (shema) the word of the LORD.” (Jer. 7:2) Many call this Jeremiah’s ‘temple sermon.’ Poised in the most conspicuous and spiritually symbolic location, Jeremiah proceeded to courageously preach a condemning message to a sinful people.

There was only one problem. God was commanding the people to do the very thing they consistently refused to do, that is, to “listen.” Sure, they heard the words but they had not listened to them in the way God wanted. The word “shema” does not simply mean to hear auditorily (Prov. 20:12)

letting sound waves in your ears. “Shema” means to pay attention (Gen. 29:33), to respond (Psa. 27:7; Ex. 19:5), even to obey (Isa. 6:9-10; 43:8; Psa. 115:6; Zech. 7:11). This is what God was calling Judah to do: to listen and respond with obedience. God expects the same today (Jas. 1:22).

 

In one section, Jeremiah indicts his contemporaries for refusing to listen to God. Let’s take a look at Jeremiah 7:21-28 together.

 

First, the prophet attacks their sacrifices. God told them, “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat flesh.” (7:21) The Jews still observed the sacrificial system according to the distinctions specified in the Law but God said, at this point, with the way they were living, it really didn’t matter anymore. They could mix meat sacrifices up and cook it for barbeque and it would make no difference to God. Their sacrifices were profaned anyway by their way of life. Does God accept our worship?

 

Second, the prophet appeals to history. God said, “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (7:22) God had commanded and required these important sacrifices but that’s not the first thing He did when He rescued them from slavery. Jeremiah is teaching them (and us!) to read their bible – in the right order! Upon redeeming them from Egyptian slavery, the first thing God required of Israel was not the sacrificial system but to listen to Him!

 

God simply said, “Obey (shema) My voice” (7:23; cf. Ex. 19:4-6). Only after establishing the covenant at Sinai which was agreed to by the people and sealed in blood (Ex. 19-24) did God speak about the tent, the altar and the sacrifices. God wasn’t minimizing the importance of sacrifices but rather showing the order of importance: obeying rules regarding sacrifices doesn’t do any good if one is not willing to listen to and obey God.

 

The events of the exodus show that God’s initiative of redeeming grace comes before the requirement of responsive obedience (Ex. 1-18) but it also shows that obedience in our personal life comes before the sacrificial system! The second is empty without the first. Yet, since the beginning, Israel had refused to listen to God’s voice (7:24-26).

The prophet rounds out this section of his sermon by outlining Judah’s persistent refusal to listen (7:27-28). The verb ‘shema’ is repeated five times in verses 21-28. Israel was deaf to God’s voice. No generation listened to voice of “prophets” (v.25) but Jeremiah’s generation was worse than them all (v.26). They refused to listen or answer when spoken to (v.27). They were thus defined by their deafness (v.28): This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the LORD their God   or accept correction; truth has perished and has been cut off from   their mouth.

 

How would we like to be categorized as an entire generation who “did not obey the voice of the LORD”? Jeremiah was commanded to preach to those who refuse to listen. He was commanded not even to pray for them (7:16-20). One might wonder, why even preach to those you can’t pray for? Why speak to those who won’t listen?

 

Preaching God’s word reveals the condition of the hearts of the hearers. The hearts of Jeremiah’s generation were so hardened they were impervious to truth. Through hearing but not responding to God’s word, people condemn themselves and show their condemnation to be deserved (cf. Mt. 13:10-17).

 

Preaching God’s word also makes it clear that God never acts in judgment without warning. None of Jeremiah’s contemporaries would have the excuse of ignorance when Babylon’s army came knocking. God always gives warning before acting in judgment in the hope that some will ‘shema,’ repent and suspend judgment (cf. 2 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9).

 

For the exiles reading Jeremiah’s book in Babylon and for us today, Jeremiah’s preaching carries with it a powerful subtext, “You refused to listen before; will you refuse to listen now?” These ancient texts are calling for us to respond. It is as if Jeremiah is speaking to you and I today, saying, “Listen to the LORD! Learn the lessons of history! God is giving you a chance to hear and obey Him every time you open up your Bible!” When we study God’s word let us hear and obey His voice.

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