Monday, August 31, 2009

Some Thoughts on James 2:1-13

Jesus summed up the way his followers should live in a twofold love commandment: Love God with the entirety of your being; love your neighbor as yourself. The first love begets the second love. The second love reflects and expresses the authenticity of the first love.

James assumes and applies this twofold love commandment in writing to the community of Jesus-followers in those first years after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. “You believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord,” he says, “then love your neighbor as yourself.”

That sounds grand, but how do we love our neighbor as our self? James gives us one concrete, highly practical way to love our neighbor: Do not show favoritism to those who are rich in worldly terms. Success and wealth as measured in terms of our worldly culture – money, clothes, jewelry, property, popularity, physical appearance, and so on – are not God’s marks of favor. God favors those who are poor in worldly terms. He lavishes them with richness of faith – with trust, hope, and love. These are their assets. These are true riches. (Compare Matthew 5:3 and Luke 6:20.)

Clearly even in James’s time, so close to Jesus’ sojourn on earth, the love commandment was a challenge. When believers gathered for worship, they tended to show favor to the wealthy and disdain for the poor. James warned that this pattern of thinking and behaving contradicted the twofold love commandment of love for neighbor and love for God.

Do we show this kind of favoritism today? In what ways? Why might we do this? I suspect that we do it because – in too many ways shaped as much as by our culture as by the kingdom of God – we desire to possess the cultural marks of favor for our self. We envy worldly riches in others because we want them for our self. Consciously or unconsciously, we betray this cultural pattern of thinking and behaving when we show favoritism to those who possess worldly riches.

Yet God wants to humble us in order to exalt us with true richness – richness of trust, hope, and love in him. When we possess true riches, the riches of the kingdom, we will lavish not envy and favoritism but love on our neighbor, no matter their circumstances in worldly terms.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Some Brief Thoughts on Work as Blessing and Curse

In the world as we know it, work is ambiguous. It is both blessing and curse. The admixture makes us ambivalent about work. In general, it is better to have work than not, though we tire of work and desire not to work. Yet not having work or not being at work finally has positive value for us only as respite from having work or being at work.

Even this way of putting the matter evokes the ambiguity and our ambivalence, for there is a subtle but significant difference between the phrases "to have work" and "to work". Likewise, there is a subtle but distinct difference in meaning between "at work" as a place and "work" or "at work" as a verb or an activity. "I am at work" means something different from "I work" or "I am working."

God created us to be, yes, and also to do or to make. So in God's good created order, being and making are blessing, even if, as finite creatures, we tire as we live and act. Yet in a sinful world, tiredness takes on a different quality, the character of a curse. Tiredness results not only from our finitude but from our servitude, our bondage to sin and death. Being wears upon us, and making wears us out. Compare the tiredness an athlete feels after hours of exertion in a favorite sport with the tiredness a seamstress feels after long days in a sweatshop.

Work as God intended it and made us for in original creation is more like what we experience in this life as activity when engaged in hobbies.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

God Loves Us

God loves us as we are, but he never leaves as we are.