Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23; James 2: 1-17
Pearl: Living faith means loving neighbor as self in an impartial way.
Function: To motivate listeners to work out their faith by treating every neighbor with equal attention and equal affection (may be entertaining angels unaware).
Real, living faith in Jesus Christ is something tangible. Living faith can be “seen” in people.
- Is not this the faith that you aspire to? You want to be real in every way. You want your faith to be alive! You don’t want to be among the “living dead” when it comes to your faith. There is a fascination with zombies in recent years. Have you seen cars with decals saying things like “Zombie Outbreak Response Team?” There are lots of video games involving zombies. This recent fad may stem from the “Night of the Living Dead” movie series from the late 1970’s and 80’s.
- In movies and video games zombies look like they are alive but actually they are dead.
- It is possible for faith in Jesus Christ to look like it is alive but in actuality it is dead. James talks about this “dead faith” as being a faith which does not result in good works or which does not bear any fruit.
- Faith in Christ transforms people.
- You cannot come to Christ by faith and remain the same any more than you can come into contact with a 220-volt wire and remain the same.
- Taking on faith in Jesus Christ will change you from one way of life into another. And it will continue to change you all the way through your life. That is how dramatic an affect Jesus has on you. If you came to faith at an early age it is no different. The Holy Spirit started working on you at that early age and never stopped working on you.
- Since you are in Christ and since the Spirit of God is coursing through your very being, C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity: “…it must follow that you are trying to obey him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved but because he has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of heaven is already inside you.”
- I love the way Lewis wrote that! “…a first faint gleam of heaven already inside you.”
- This is eternity now. This is the realm of God present now as a “faint gleam already inside you.”
- This “faint gleam” is seen in the good things that you are doing which reflect the heart and mind of Christ. This “faint gleam” is seen in the fruits of the Spirit which are seen in you.
In particular the “fruits” and “works” of living faith “love all without showing partiality.”
It is a main argument and overriding theme of James that faith in Jesus Christ is tied to works or actions which spring forth from that living faith foundation.
- Theological discussions go on and have gone on about whether you can have faith without works or works without faith. Some have said that the Apostle Paul championed “salvation by grace through faith alone.” The Reformed branch of the church (to which we belong) is especially known for this. But actually Paul believed that living faith, saving faith was seen in works and actions.
- I referred to Ephesians 2 last week where it is written that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works that God destined for us to do as a way of life before we were even born (Eph. 2: 10).
- Faith and works go together just like two oars on a rowboat. One oar is faith and the other oar is works. If you only paddle with faith your boat will simply go around and around in circles. The only way you can go forward and make progress from one point to another is by paddling with both oars together in balanced synchronicity.
- Faith and works go together. Living faith is visible through actions, obedience, perspectives, outlooks, demeanors, characteristics, indeed through the practical living of your lives.
It was the social norm in the early Greco-Roman world to favor men, of course men (women were pushed aside as second class), to favor men of higher rank or status and to cast aside as inferior the poor in deference to the rich.
- It was the social norm in the years of the early church to do this. It was the “way of the world.”
- But believers in Jesus Christ were to be different. They were transformed by the amazing gospel which showed no partiality. Anyone could come to new life in Jesus Christ regardless of social standing.
- The problem was that even in the church favoritism occurred. The wealthy were fawned over and the poor were not always loved.
- James insisted that those who were followers of Christ were radically different and were to love every neighbor equally, showing no partiality to anyone.
- The rich and the poor were to be treated equally as brothers and sisters.
- In actuality this was not new with Jesus but it was always a biblical principle. Hear again the strong words from the Book of Wisdom in Proverbs:
- “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor” (Prov. 2: 9).
- “Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them” (Prov. 2: 22-23).
- James also had harsh words toward those who would dishonor the poor:
- “Judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy, mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
Living faith loves without partiality.
The Apostle Paul addressed this to the Corinthian church when all were not being treated equally.
- When the community gathered for meals together some would begin to eat before others. These who got there first may well have been the rich and the latecomers were those who were laboring all day. When they arrived there was not enough food left to feed them.
- In that very chapter are the sacred words of institution which I say at Communion. After those words was one more command for God’s people to wait for one another before eating.
- Followers of Jesus treat each other as equals and show no partiality to the rich over the poor.
- The Table is one of the church’s most powerful symbol. The Table is for everyone. All are equal at the Table of the Lord. All are wanted, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, men and women, young and old…all are wanted.
If you find that you do not see it like I am describing and that indeed you show partiality by catering to favorites then you need resurrection! You can be transformed once again by the living, reigning Lord Jesus Christ.
- In Christ we can be made alive again, and again.
- If you are zombie-like in your faith, you can be restored.
You can be restored at the Table where you will eat and drink straight from the well of the true spring of life. And you will once again have that “faint gleam of heaven inside you” which will then be seen in acts and works of an entirely different nature than the nature of the world.
You cannot touch a 220-volt wire and remain the same.
You cannot eat and drink of the kingdom of God and remain the same.
While you were yet sinners Christ died for you. You were once spiritually poor and bankrupt, but in Jesus Christ you have become spiritually rich. God showed no partiality in saving you.
So we will treat everyone equally as neighbors through the Spirit of God which is a Spirit of mercy.