“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4)
There is a story circulating around on the internet, last appearing a good many months ago, of a minister who dressed up/down as a homeless person and appeared at church – just to see how his congregation would react. Yes, they failed that “hospitality” test!
I also heard from a friend about a church within her denomination who adamantly opposed any social or evangelical out reach, saying that is not the “purpose” of the church. Sadly there are not enough welcoming churches. I do not know the estimate of how many people are without housing or financial resources to meet their daily needs, but I suspect it is more people who go to church. Yet, if each person would help just one person, we could probably meet the needs of most of the homeless and needy. And even if it does not, the gratitude of those who are helped will make our efforts worthwhile!
“Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?” (James 2:5-7)
But I digress. The writer of James is not talking about social outreach but welcoming all people into your fellowship group. And the shame of giving preference to the rich over the poor. Although I would caution the writer of James that not all people who are rich as out to oppress the poor. Where we read in the gospels of Jesus scolding and chiding the Sadducees, Pharisees, scribes and others is where, I think, the writer of James is taking his perspective
“You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (Verses 8-10)
The writer of James goes on to give an example of his point, but the RCL does not always use that portion.
“For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (Verses 11-13)
Both offenses, committing adultery and committing murder, are serious offenses; but I think the writer of James is setting the crime of partiality in a serious light by comparing it to the seriousness of murder. A good insight in to his thinking and the vehemence of his exhortation.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” ( Verses 14-17)
The writer of James has brought himself around to what I said several paragraphs back, that supplying help and assistance to those in need is a vital part of Christian living. The whole issue of faith in the Christian life, and good works in the Christian life is a “hot topic.” The friend I mentioned earlier encountered (or gives report of the encounter) people who see no reason to do “good works” but believe faith is all that is needed. Do not fall into that morass, beloved reader. I hope and pray that you do not! Selah!