The Living Word for Sunday, September 5, 2021, is a non-denominational Bible study which relies on the Bible explaining the Bible, uninfluenced by any church’s traditions or preferences, and following the Bible’s sequence of progressive revelation. Read the whole passage first and let the Holy Spirit begin speaking to you through it, then go deeper with the verse by verse commentary and reflections. The week’s readings are as set by the Revised Common Lectionary, a resource shared by many different churches and chapels. The version, widely used in contemporary churches, is the NIV © Biblica. Ref TLW35B
• See also this week’s linked article Learning to be impartial which draws out the teaching from this theme.
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 — The Lord’s way is impartial kindness shown to all
Mark 7:24-37 — Jesus shows His concern for Gentiles in need
James 2:1-17 — Genuine faith is shown by how we treat ‘outsiders’
And also read: Psalm 125
Theme: God loves us without favouritism
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 — Imitating God’s impartial kindness
The Lord’s way is to treat people of His creation evenly
1-2 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.
“A good name” – character has greater value than riches, as Proverbs 3:14 and 16:16. The precepts of the Lord similarly, Ps. 19:10 and 119:72, 127.
To oppress the poor, who are made in God’s image, is to insult God Himself. See Prov. 14:31.
8-9 Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken. The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.
“Reaps calamity…will be blessed” – Scripture says much about the grace of God but also that all actions have consequences; we reap what we sow, and both meanness and generosity of spirit come back to us, but in opposite ways.
• For further study, see Proverbs 11:25–26; 14:21; 19:17, Hosea 8:72; Cor. 9:6–10, Galatians 6:7.
22-23 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.
“Do not exploit the poor” – which was common in a culture that believed that riches demonstrated God’s blessing. See Proverbs 22:16, 14:31. Justice defends the needy, Isaiah 1:17.
SUMMARY These verses set out God’s way of viewing others without partiality. He does not show favouritism, Acts 10:34, Galatians 2:6 but regards all who are His creation even-handedly – and in the Bible we see Him often choose ‘outsiders’.
APPLICATION How we judge others — or in particular, how we choose NOT to judge others — is about choosing God’s perspective, rather than a narrow, human view of our rights and entitlements to control and judge others.
QUESTION We all fall into the trap of favouritism and judging others! How is the Holy Spirit revealing this attitude to you?
Mark 7:24-37 — Jesus shows impartiality to Gentiles in need
Jesus delivers a Greek woman’s daughter and heals a deaf and dumb man
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep His presence secret.
“Tyre” – this mainly Greek-speaking Gentile region in modern-day Lebanon had a Jewish community that Jesus knew, Mark 3:8. Mark’s mainly Gentile readers would have seen here Jesus foreshadowing the church’s mission to their Gentile world.
25-26 In fact, as soon as she heard about Him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
“She begged” – asked repeatedly, compelled by her extreme need for her daughter, to seek help from the Jewish rabbi.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” He told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Children’s bread” – Jesus tests the woman’s faith in an exchange that was more playful than it sounds to us. He offers her the put-down she expects — but prefaced by “first” which tells her that Gentiles also receive God’s grace. Will she show faith in her response?
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
“Even the dogs” —this rendering captures the exchange well: “Finally He said to her, ‘First let My children be fed and satisfied, for it isn’t fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.’ She answered, ”How true that is, Lord. But even puppies under the family table are allowed to eat the little children’s crumbs.“ Then Jesus said to her, ”That’s a good reply!” Mark 7:28 TPT
29 Then He told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
“For such a reply” — the Good News may be for Jews first, Exodus 4:22, but others are included, and she has shown genuine faith.
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
“She went home” – a deliverance with no contact with the suffering person.
• For further study, compare with the ‘distant’ healing miracles in Capernaum of the centurion’s servant, Matt. 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10 and the official’s son, John 4:46-54. The Bible treats spiritual salvation, healing and demonic deliverance as the same process of God’s grace.
31-32 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to Him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place His hand on him.
“The region of the Decapolis” — east of Galilee, another mainly Gentile Greek-culture region which had been partly resettled by deported Jews returning.
33–35 After He took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spat and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
“Put His fingers” – Jesus uses sign language to show the deaf man that He was ministering to his hearing and speech.
“Took him aside” – to avoid him becoming a spectacle.
36-37 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more He did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
“Overwhelmed with amazement” – The crowd, attracted to the signs and wonders, saw hope of political liberation. However, Jesus needed His disciples and others to perceive (1) who the signs showed He was — the Messiah of God, but vulnerable and non-political — and (2) their pointing to the nation’s spiritual blindness and deafness.
SUMMARY Jesus travelled to Tyre to minister to Jewish settlers there, but He was not about to dismiss a distraught and pleading Gentile woman because she was not one of the Jesus ‘children’ He was sent to. Similarly He returned to the Decapolis, a region that has previously asked Him to leave.
APPLICATION Jesus’ ministry beyond the Jewish community is an object lesson challenging churches which have settled into closed communities instead of being His mission stations. Jesus had a clear call to His priorities but didn’t hold back His love from those who were different. Similarly we should minister to those He gives us without partiality.
QUESTION How is God testing you to see if your love extends beyond your comfort zone?
James 2:1-17 — Genuine faith treats others without discrimination
Our heart, impartial or otherwise, is demonstrated in how we treat ‘outsiders’
1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism.
“Favouritism” – Christ came from an undistinguished village and ministered in and around Galilee and Samaria, regions despised by Israel’s leaders. This makes a strong statement about God’s measure of distinction.
2-4 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
“Meeting” – James uses the general word, sunagoge, and the Greek word for ‘assembly’, ekklesia, James 5:14. Both mean a gathering, not a building.
“Gold ring and fine clothes” – showing prosperity and status, Luke 15:22. The early church attracted many who were economically needy, Acts 4:35-37, Acts 6:1-6, 1 Cor. 1:26.
“A good seat… sit on the floor” – most would stand or sit cross-legged on the floor. There would be a few benches around the wall and in front, which the Pharisees considered theirs by entitlement, Mark 12:38-39.
5-7 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of Him to whom you belong?
“Has not God chosen… to inherit the kingdom” – God’s choosing combines His drawing us to Him by the Holy Spirit, and our response, to enter into the present realm of Christ’s rule, the kingdom, which is yet to come fully. God’s kingdom order confronts the world’s priorities, Luke 6:20-23.
“Blaspheming the noble name” – literally, “who slander the noble name spoken over you,” meaning the ownership of Jesus Christ which we declare at conversion and baptism.
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right.
“Royal law” – supreme and binding law, quoted from Leviticus 19:18. Taken with the command to love God, it encapsulates all the Law and Prophets, as Jesus taught and Paul emphasised.
• For further study, read Deut. 6:4-5, Matt. 22:36-40, Romans 13:8-10.
9-10 But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
“If you show” – or. “since you are showing”. Exclusive behaviour violates God’s overriding law of love governing all human relationships. Leviticus 19:15 specifically prohibited favouritism.
11 For He who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
“Lawbreaker” – Jewish religious teaching had reduced the law to a long series of injunctions which were held to be of varying importance. James tells us we cannot cherry-pick and claim to live for God.
12-13 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
James assumes his readers are genuine, born again believers, Someone who is judgmental and whose life does not show mercy, has clearly not received God’s mercy.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?
“Claims to have faith” – but if it’s not sincere saving faith, it is a demonic deception, useless and dead, James 2:19,20,26. An institutional ‘faith’, form without fruit, cannot save. Reliance on salvation through the church is false trust in an institution, and it is quite different from the faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour that justifies, saves — and transforms us.
15-17 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
“Faith… not accompanied by action, is dead”—genuine faith where God’s Spirit is active within us is a spiritual transformation that produces actions that please God. James is not saying that a person is saved by their good works — it is the other way round, the saved person produces the good works. He has clearly stated that salvation is a gracious gift from God that cannot be earned, James 1:17-18, see also Ephesians 2:8-9.
• For further study, see James 2:20, 24, 26 and Jesus’ teaching e.g. Matt. 3:7-8, John 8:30-31.
“What good is it?” – this picture of false faith is like the false love of 1 John 3:17.
SUMMARY Those who walk with Jesus and His Spirit are empowered to live differently by loving others with God’s love. That means seeing others through God’s eyes and accepting them without judgmental discriminations.
APPLICATION Many we meet will be rejecting religion, which to them is also rejecting God. However, He has put us in place to be impartial guides, following the law of love to show them how they can know God personally.
QUESTION If we are called to model God’s impartiality, what might that look like?
PRAYER Lord, in our humanness we judge others who are not like us and fall far short of having Your heart for them. Fill us with Your Spirit afresh, to love with Your love and leave the judging to You because You are completely fair and impartial. Stir us up to be empowered and reliable guides to others, showing the difference between man’s way and the Way of Jesus. Amen.
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God’s way is to love us without favouritism, Jesus ministered to outsiders and we are exhorted to show the same unconditional love by respecting everyone evenly.