18. March 2018

Freedom from Partiality

Service Type:

Show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ (James 2, 1)

The Letter of James is perhaps the most straightforward of all the books of the Bible; so straightforward in fact that more often than not we find ourselves recoiling from it. It is blunt to the point of bluntness. Practical questions demand practical answers; to live the Christian life is to put into practice what one believes.

‘Faith without works is dead!’ James doesn’t contradict Paul, James doesn’t say that a person is saved on account of the works they do; no, for James, as for Paul, ‘it is by grace we are saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves’, but if faith doesn’t reveal itself in practical terms, what value faith. Jesus Himself said, If you have light you use it illuminate the whole house, you don’t “hide your light under a bushel’ – so it should be with us: let people see our good deeds that they might give glory to the God in whom we believe, the God in whom we trust, the God in whom we have put our faith. The works we do, consequent on the faith we have, itself consequent upon the grace we have received are necessary in order that others might be made aware of the goodness of God and be encouraged to themselves want to enter into a relationship with Him. Believing comes alive in saying and doing. But it is more than that. Faith has to impact itself in practical terms in every aspect of life. And so, in this passage James counsels against falling into the trap of imposing secular divisions upon the Christian community rather than realising that the Christian community has been brought into being in order to confront the divided society that is so characteristic of the secular world. Just as Paul had declared, ‘No Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free’, here James declares, in effect, ‘no rich nor poor’. But of course in reality, the early church congregations did comprise converts from both Jewish & Greek backgrounds, there were men and women, there were slaves and free, and there were those who were rich and there were those who were poor. James is saying that the Christian has to see past that which divides us in order to recognise that which unites us: so for James it is not a case of rich Christians and poor Christians, rather it is all about Christians, some of whom happen to be rich and some of whom happen to be poor. And if we can manage to see each other that way we will not fall into the trap of giving greater prominence to the rich Christian whilst paying less attention to the poor Christian. Moreover, don’t fall into the bigger trap of assuming, as the world might, and often does, that the rich the person is the better they are, the more deserving they are of respect, the more attention they deserve, because actually says James, in effect, a person’s wealth might have been acquired by one of any number of ways, not all of which might be thought honourable. In short, faith in Jesus Christ demands that we be liberated from any sense of partiality; demands that we realise that there is no room for partiality of any kind within the church; demands that we appreciate that there can be no partiality as far as the way we might judge each other – among ourselves, within the church, beyond the church into the wider world. And if we can come to that understanding, it will in turn shape the ways in which we put into practice what we believe…

in order to grow and flourish, churches begin by being themselves & by actively seeking to reflect Jesus to their local communities. The church exists to mirror Christ to those around it, just as Christians as individuals are encouraged to do so through their own behaviour. What that looks like will be different according to the varying needs of individual communities but the purpose remains the same. Church–based projects serving their community should also point implicitly to the faith which is their primary motivation…Social action is rarely done with the explicit intention of growing the church; it is led instead from a desire to serve the community. These activities are worthwhile in their own right, but also for the questions and conversations they lead to and the relationships which are built in the process. Social action projects and discipleship initiatives are both ways in which churches may seek to reflect Jesus to those around them. The relationships and connections which emerge from these actions may draw people into church, indirectly leading to the growth of the congregation (Hannah Rich: Church Growth & Obliquity: Theos website).

The only way the church will grow, at any level, is by having the courage to engage directly with those who need to hear its message – the message that faith without works is dead – by working as hard as it can to communicate that same message in word and deed; practising what we preach, putting our money where our mouth is; not only talking a good game, but playing to win; not just bemoaning the state we are in, but doing all we can to effect regime change as far as that state is concerned; not being content with merely pointing out what people are doing wrong according to God’s law, but doing all we can to engender a spirit of hope whereby people are encouraged to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with their God – and for all of this we are to be a role model, a mentor, a guide – the only Jesus that some may ever see. Thus we cannot afford in any way to allow bias or prejudice to get in the way: we have to see beyond a person’s colour, a person’s age, a person’s gender, a person’s sexuality, a person’s colour, a person’s language, a person’s class, a person’s pedigree, a person’s ethnicity even a person’s faith or lack of it…Before God no one is more privileged than any other, because before God we are all privileged to serve, without partiality…