Article linked to the Bible study post for September 5 and based on these Bible readings listed in the Revised Common Lectionary:
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’
The main teaching point that comes from this week’s Bible readings (Sept 5) comes straight from the heart of God Himself. There’s nothing complicated or obscure about it. It doesn’t have a long theological name.
It’s simply about loving people the same, whether they deserve it or not, whether they are are good upstanding ‘club members’ or just random people, rich or poor, of high estate or utterly ordinary, pillars of the church or ones that never give. God loves the the same!
Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.Proverbs 22:2
He doesn’t wait until we give our lives to Him through believing Jesus. He always loved us anyway. But we are then positioned to RECEIVE that love (and also give it away) in a way we were not free to do before.
We see this being demonstrated in the ministry of Jesus, and it was remarkable enough for Mark to give it some prominence, because the readers of his gospel were mainly new converts among the Gentiles who were by now the majority of the church.
Mark tells two stories about times when Jesus had travelled well out of his local Galilee area. One concerned a Greek-speaking woman from Syrian Phoenicia whose daughter was afflicted by a demon, Knowing that the Jewish rabbi would not want to be approached by a Gentile woman, it was desperate need that overcame her anticipation of being rejected. But Jesus didn’t. Teasingly, he reminded her that his mission was to his own people first, leaving the way open for her to respond.
“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.”
“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Then He told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”Mark 7:27-29
Spiritually, two things are happening here. Both are necessary, and they are linked. She responds in simple humility — her need for her daughter is pressing — and, addressing Jesus as “Lord”, her words express her trust in Him. This allows grace to flow, and the outcome is that the child becomes free at that moment, even though Jesus has not visited the house or spoken any words over her.
The second story concerns a man in another place of mainly Greek culture. This is inland, on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, in a region where Jesus had been asked to leave previously after the deliverance of the wild, uncontrollable demonised man — together with the loss of a valuable and large herd of pigs that rushed off the cliff and into the sea.
Jesus was well known in the area, so it was not surprising that people brought afflicted people to him — like the man who had no hearing, and as a consequence could hardly form words. Jesus needed to communicate with him — ministry is relational and personal. It’s God’s love coming to meet a person’s need, and seeking a faith response.
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.
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.Mark 7:32-35
So, having taken the man aside — this was not to be a circus act — Jesus used the language of touch on the man’s ears and tongue to make an emotional and spiritual connection. Then He commanded the man’s ‘closed’ hearing and speech to be opened, and he was able to hear and speak clearly.
We are not told whether this man was a Jew or a Gentile, but he came from an area where Jewish belief and custom was weak. He was an outsider. Jesus showed the same love to him as to the synagogue attenders who did what was expected of Jews.
This example is further informed by the teaching that James gives in his letter, that those who genuinely believe in Jesus and uphold His lordship will be like Him in showing love to rich and poor alike.
He gives the example of two people who come to the meeting, one well-dressed and clearly well-off, and the other distinctly down at heel. Would you treat the more important-looking visitor with deference and give them the remaining good seat at the front? That ‘s making a false judgment and discriminating, says James.
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….James 2:5-6
He goes on to make the point that it is the rich and influential that can afford to take believers to court and dishonour the name of Jesus. So there’s an irony in making them the favourites.
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.James 2: 8-9
What James wrote might better be translated, “Since you ARE showing favouritism…”.
James was probably referencing Leviticus 19:15 which bluntly prohibits showing favouritism:
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly.Leviticus 19:15 NIV
Behaving in an exclusive way — some so-called Christian sects actually make this their defining characteristic, while many churches are in reality clubs for the like-minded — is a denial of the gospel. Maintaining social customs and traditions for the pleasure of the existing members calls into question whether the mission of God, who sends us into the world, is even part of their thinking.
Is this the mark of someone who has truly trusted Christ, who has within them the Holy Spirit working with His love?
This leads into some challenging words from James as he develops his argument. For the purposes of clarity we’ll adjust the order slightly:
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.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?James 2:15-17 and 14
If we claim to have faith, who or what is that faith resting on?
There is a kind of ‘institutional faith’ which places reliance on the church to do the actual believing, somehow imparted to us through its rituals. This is relying on salvation through the church and it is a deception. It is a false trust that has trapped many, and no substitute for the costly but life-giving faith and trust in Jesus as our personal Saviour, and the Lord we have given our lives to.
This does two important things that ‘institutional faith’ cannot begin to do. It gives us assurance that we are the Lord’s and removes the fear of fears, the fear of death.
It is also the faith that transforms us and makes us different from the inside out. It changes our hearts. We make a step change to becoming more like Jesus, not through our efforts but through His finished work and His Spirit. This comes through in how we live and the emotional generosity we show to others.
It’s a change that gives us a freedom of spirit that wasn’t there before. Far from being saved BY our good works — a deception that goes hand-in-hand with the false belief we can be saved through the church — we are saved by Jesus TO BE EMPOWERED FOR for good works. The works that God will bring from us, by the working of His Holy Spirit, will be good!
This is the Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered life He desires for each of us — knowing how He loves us, as we saw from the OT passage, having the freedom to go outside our familiar boundaries to show love to others who may not be our sort of people at all; and free to allow the Lord’s good works to be propagated through us, to those He wants to reach with His love.