From the teaching that James presents here it appears that many in the church were behaving in an ungodly manner by showing favoritism to the rich in their fellowships to the detriment of everyone else. James deemed it necessary to remind his audience that they must accept each fellow believer as an equal, otherwise they were sinning. This was a failure to show love and hospitality towards fellow brethren, a sin as serious as adultery and murder. Rather than playing favorites, they should be showing mercy just as God had showed each of them mercy. Those who do not will be judged accordingly, that is, without mercy; they will be condemned.
The last verse in this section is perhaps one of the most underrated verse in the Bible, but one which presents a wonderful and comforting truth. Mercy triumphs over judgment. We all desire mercy and God delights to give it. How much more should we then grant mercy to others rather than condemnation? And it should be dispensed freely as it is something greatly needed in our church and culture as it was in the early church. Today as then favoritism runs rampant in the Christian culture with its emphasis on Christian celebrities in the form of singers and preachers. Favoritism is also granted to wealthy donors who demand that their gifts earn them the right to demand their agendas be implemented.
Instead of favoring or kowtowing to the demands of such luminaries, we should be reaching out to the poor and the downtrodden. We should be extending mercy and kindness to all sorts of hurting people, primarily those within the fellowship of believers but also to those in the world. What James seems to be recommending is that we err on the side of mercy, not judgment or scorn. We may get fooled by those who are evil charlatans and liars, but we may also be responsible for bringing some hurting sinner to repentance as they experience the love of Jesus through us.
In the process of this exhortation to godliness, James points out one of the basic truths concerning the human heart: our tremendous capacity for self-deception. We human beings are all quick to point out the flaws and immorality of others while ignoring our own. Apparently this is true of Christians as well who have access to the Word of God as their instrument of hypocrisy. James compares the Word to a mirror. When we look into the Word it is supposed to show our sinfulness and hypocrisy. Yet we often ignore what it shows about ourselves while using it enthusiastically to judge and condemn others. The Scripture tells us how to live and exhorts us to extend grace, kindness and mercy to others. Yet this is what we forget to do. We would rather take the stand of righteous anger, the moral high ground against the people in our world including our own Christian brethren.
James points out that this hypocritical attitude is most prominent in our attitude toward the poor and oppressed. James refers to them as widows and orphans, a term used throughout Scripture to indicate those groups of people subject to neglect, abuse, and exploitation. The Lord reaches out to the downtrodden and would have us do the same. We Christians are called on not to malign or disparage them, but to empathize with them and understand their plight. We must reach out to them with the love of God and help them in every way possible so as to lead them to Christ. After all, we too were once as lost and sinful as they are. Thank God there was someone humble enough to reach out to us to show us the mercy and love of Jesus.
The opening verses of James’s Epistle tell us of the themes of the teaching he wishes to impart to the Church. He writes to the 12 tribes, a reference to spiritual Israel, the church throughout the world. James calls the church to persevere in times of suffering and persecution through prayer and godly wisdom as well as to live in righteousness marked by deeds of compassion and love. Christians will endure persecution and tough times merely because they are members of the Kingdom of God. They must not give up or lose heart. They must pray and receive God’s certain wisdom and strength which will help them endure without compromise or despair. They will grow in Christian maturity as they remain faithful through their experiences.
James notes that the incentive and stimulus to perseverance and godly living is God Himself. He is faithful and true. He is always reliable, unchangeable and good. We can always rely on Him to do what is right even if we do not agree in the midst of pain, sickness, suffering, deprivation, persecution and death.
God in Christ is our sure rock, a form foundation in the midst of chaos. This is a vital yet foreign message to our contemporary culture which does not believe in a God who cares or who believe in a god who is aloof, changeable and capricious. The world is in chaos and seeking for firm anchors in philosophy, fame, sensuality and wealth, things which will not help or satisfy. They seek advice wisdom in astrology and mystical religions which put the self at the center. James reminds us that God has made all there is and He does not change. He can provide sure and certain wisdom if we are humble enough to know we need it and to ask for it.
Luke opens the narrative of Jesus’ nativity by relating the events that caused it to happen in the town of Bethlehem in fulfillment of prophecy. While kings and kingdoms moved forward with their own agendas and plans, the Lord was using them to accomplish His plan. The King of Heaven became man in a foul smelling and malodorous manger in a small insignificant village in a remote corner of the mighty Roman Empire. The one who would change the course of history, who in fact determines and sets the course of kings and kingdoms came in a quiet and humble way.
The ones who noticed His birth were a mixed assembly of witnesses. There was a glorious company of heavenly angels, of course, who put on a splendid worship service glorifying and praising God who had fulfilled His promises to man. The rest of the group was composed of a rather insignificant number of people who would have lacked credibility in their own society. There was a small group of crude and smelly shepherds. They saw the heavenly spectacle and the baby Jesus but who would believe them? Then too there was a doddering old man and an elderly widow both of whom, though respected by the Jews, would have been dismissed as too old and senile to make sense. It was these simple yet righteous people that God chose to use and to bless with the message of His salvation from sin. He still does the same today and continues to use the humble and meek to transmit His word. While the world focuses on parties, gift-giving and/or Santa Claus, the Christian must aim to keep the focus of the holiday right where it belongs: Jesus as our salvation from sin.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As we approach Christmas, our reading should focus on obeying the Lord. We see obedience and fulfilling the calling of teh Lord in the opening verses of Mark’s Gospel. This first verse is filled with great meaning. Mark tells us that what he is sharing with us is the gospel, that is, the good news. That good news is about Jesus. And it is indeed good news because His name means savior, a name which fills all who hear it with hope and comfort. Mark describes him as the Christ, a title that means Messiah or anointed one, the one who was promised by God to Adam and the Patriarchs who would save the people from their sins, the one who would reconcile mankind to God. Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises.
But Mark calls Jesus the Son of God by which he declares He is no ordinary human being: He is Divine. He is God Incarnate. Mark’s proclamation of the gospel is therefore focused on Jesus and how he is the Savior of not just the Jews, the chosen people, but of all mankind.
The gospel that we preach is Jesus. He is great news to those who are wandering in the darkness of sin, fear, doubt, guilt and man-made religion. He is the greatest news we can hear or preach for He bestows on all who of Him grace to sustain us all with the strength and perseverance which will enable us to keep on going in the midst of a world filled with pain, terrorism and strife.
Prayer: Lord, help me to preach the Good News to someone who is hurting and in need, that they may know the joy and peace that you grant by your grace and mercy.
After the exhortation to perseverance, the author presents several guidelines for godly living that will help believers in their daily walk. These specific guidelines may be connected with the author’s admonition to be obedient to those in authority in the church and to be wary of false teachings. Some false or misguided brethren were teaching a wide range of strange ideas including legalism about abstaining from certain foods and eating only clean foods, claiming that this practice was a means to higher spirituality. In addition, some were promoting sexual abstinence in marriage while others were endorsing sexual immorality possibly for the same reason or as a sign of spiritual maturity. The author makes it clear that such practices do not provide grace. Grace and mercy come only through faith in Christ. This is why we must listen to those whom the Lord has placed in authority over us, so that we are not seduced by lies.
The author tells us that rather than following these selfish and self-serving lies, we must act with deeds of godliness and compassion. The underlying motive for such godly behavior is love. We perform these acts of kindness in thankfulness for what Jesus has done for us but also for the good of others. We are responsible for the mutual encouragement and growth of the brethren so that we all persevere to the end. We are not to be driven by the love of money, lust for pleasure, desire for the easy life, or even to be free from pain and opposition. This is a hard task we are called to, one that none of us is really capable of carrying out. The good news is that we can do all these things because we act in faith. We know with a certainty that He is with us giving us all the resources we need to obey His commands.
The examples set by our ancestors in faith as well as Jesus Himself serve as the greatest incentive for us to endure and persevere no matter what happens. The author reminds us that we need faithful endurance because the Christian life is a like a long distance race. We are advancing towards the goal to win a reward. This can be painful and exhausting. But the race we are in does not involve competing for the prize against our fellow believers. The prize, in our case heaven, peace and perfection goes to all who finish the race. Selfishness and self-interest have no part in this race, and in fact, will cause many to lose. As members of the church we have a responsibility to help our fellow brothers to finish the course by inspiring and helping those who are faltering.
In the process of running we will encounter hardships and pain. These should not make us think the Lord is angry with us or that He is punishing us for sin. After all we are not under the Old Covenant of Law, we have not come to Mount Sinai, where the Jews were afraid to even come close to God lest He strike them down. They knew they were rebellious sinners who wanted God’s protection and blessing without having to obey. We, however, are under the New Covenant of grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. Any of the losses, sacrifices, pain trials and tribulations we endure in the course of our lives are to be embraced for the Lord is using them to discipline us, to help us continue to run the course and grow into the image and likeness of Christ. The pain is worth it for the prize is assured us. Therefore we can persevere.