December 19, 2013 / Praxis
Barbara Brown Taylor discusses the revelatory power of the body and the challenges of practicing embodied faith in a twenty-first-century context.
January 6, 2009
In what is perhaps the most socially conscious ethical writing of the New Testament, the writer of James proclaims that faith without works is dead, that social justice is to be the signpost of our Christianity. Like the Old Testament book of Amos, James is most concerned with issues of poverty,1 and within this context, the writer of James takes a surprisingly communal approach, explicitly addressing his message of social justice to both the powerful rich and the vulnerable poor. Today, the book of James represents an appeal to both the corporate kings of Wall Street and those men and women who make their homes on the street.
During the course of my study of James’s social justice message, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Wayne Lewis, a physician assistant who worked extensively with the poor in Washington DC.2 During the interview, Dr. Lewis recounted the stories of these vulnerable poor, and I began to realize that their stories were a testimony to the words of James. Take for example, Joe the thirty-year-old crack addict:
Joe had a long history of entering treatment and dropping out or of relapsing within weeks of completing treatment programs. Joe’s attendance at AA or NA meetings was spotty at best.
A social worker that worked with me helped Joe get a job as a stock person in a neighborhood grocery. He completed an outpatient program and remained clean for many months.
Joe’s two children lived with their maternal grandparents, since their mother was also an addict. Because of his recovery, the grandparents agreed to share and eventually relinquish custody of their grandchildren to Joe. The court specified that he needed a solid residence, and the social worker helped him to get SSI assistance.3 In addition to his salary, Joe obtained approval for a publicly subsidized apartment. However, as part of the final approval for the apartment, a physical exam was required. I did his physical and the required lab-testing, which was then analyzed by the lab. He passed everything but tested positive for HIV. Joe was devastated—at that time it was believed that HIV-positive people would develop AIDS and die within two to four years. A few days after that he was denied approval for his apartment, Joe committed suicide. Then, a week later, the public hospital, which analyzed the lab-test for free, wrote to inform me that a lab mistake resulted in a false positive for Joe and that he was not indeed HIV-positive.
Unfortunately, Joe is not an anomaly. He represents the many marginalized persons who make bad choices and fall into disastrous cycles of poverty. Sometimes, like Joe, they make fresh starts only to be distressed by the people and institutions of the wealthy class, and they give up trying; they give up on life itself.
Stories of men and women like Joe may well have prompted the first-century writings of James. It is clear that James uses a homiletic style to teach his social-justice agenda, addressing the community as “brethren” (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19; “sister” in the third person in 2:15) and as the “twelve tribes of the Diaspora” (1:1). His book is replete with Old Testament examples, laws, and wisdom traditions, and the setting appears to be a Jewish-Christian “synagogue” or “assembly” (2:2) where the community is physically gathered. However, James looks beyond the assembly and speaks to the world.
At first, James appears to direct his message specifically to the poor. He explains that his audience, you, is coerced by the rich (in third person): “Suppose that a wealthy person comes into your assembly” (2:2, emphasis mine) or “Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court [. . .] and slander[ing] you?” (2:6-7, emphasis mine). These questions assume a positive response—of course, the rich are the victimizers!—and rhetorically challenge the community’s passive acceptance of these conditions, the poor’s selective partiality toward their rich oppressors.
Then in chapter 5, James shifts his focus to the rich. Speaking directly to the powerful, he stresses the transitory character of riches, “You have hoarded wealth in the last days” (5:3, emphasis mine). He senses that the Christian community has caved in to worldly attitudes of partiality, attitudes that overly welcome the rich and their presence to the community (5:1ff.). The polemical nature of James’s instruction (paraenesis) suggests that at least some of the early church had compromised to the world’s standards. Indeed, James indicts the rich for their luxurious lifestyles at the expense of the poor; he opposes the world’s court of opinion by allying himself with the poor and offering hope to the hopeless.
Today, the need for social justice reflects itself in the high proportion of people living in poverty in the United States, a society that is otherwise rich and prosperous. Although the poor in America live better than the global poor, these manifestations of abject poverty call our Christian commitments into question. And the existence of widespread poverty in the world’s poorest nations must also be met with practical help to relieve suffering and to empower the poor to help themselves.4
Faith and Works
What does James mean by faith and works? He says that faith is not evidenced by one’s belief in God or mere intellectual orthodoxy—theoretical faith does not distinguish human beings from the belief of shuddering demons (2:19). The contrast is not between faith and works, but a living faith and a practical atheism:
Do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together (2:20-22 NIV)
James cites Abraham and Rahab as examples of faith that are proved by actions, men and women who are justified through practical Christianity (Gen. 22:1-14; Josh. 2:1-21). As Rudolph Schnackenburg affirms, “The Christianity that James preaches is not a comfortable religion.”5 James’s faith-and-works theology is an indictment of quietism, a hands-on restatement of the Great Commission.
I think of a couple named Sean and Linda, “two elderly people of minimal means” who represent a contemporary example of this Abrahamic emphasis on faith and works:
Subsequent to their conversion, Sean and Linda targeted various blocks in Norfolk, Virginia, where they passed out free loaves of bread. Their influence widened when they partnered with local food banks and grocery stores. With their limited funds, they purchased several vans and daily collected and distributed food to numerous low-income facilities. In addition, they opened the church’s fellowship center three times a week for food distribution (not cash) after a short service for people who were homeless, poor, and addicted. While the poor had every opportunity for a decision to begin the Christian life, their Christian experience never became the basis for their privilege of receiving food. Over twenty years, thousands of people made life-changing decisions through gifts of bountiful compassion. Sean and Linda’s reward consisted in helping people caught in the vicious cycles of poverty.
The Question of the “Brother” or “Neighbor”
James summons the rich and poor to an active love for the “brother,” “sister,” or “neighbor.” In doing so, his immediate focus is the community of the marginalized poor; He argues that the needy are to be the recipients of charitable assistance (2:8). James repeats the Old Testament directive of Leviticus 19:17-18, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”6 which is also championed by Jesus when he speaks with a rich young man (Matt. 19:16-22) and a lawyer (Lk. 10:25-37). In the latter conversation, the lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (10:29). According to the Halakah, the term neighbor (r?a, pl?sion) applied to every Jewish fellow-countryman but did not extend to non-Israelites.7 The man’s question implies two standards of treatment: love for Jewish neighbors and absence of love for non-Israelites. In response, Jesus shares the parable of the Good Samaritan and stands the lawyer’s question on its head by asking, “Who proved to be the neighbor?” (10:36, emphasis mine). The lawyer’s undefined object of love is inverted to become the active subject of compassion.
Often, the Christian community is exclusive; it looks only to its own members as worthy recipients of benevolence. But the lawyer’s question—“Who is my brother?”—is unanswerable in that love does not begin by defining groups, but by discovering those who are in actual need.8 There is no religious “stained-glass” expression from the hated half-breed Samaritan in Jesus’s parable; he does not look God-ward or evidence that his life-giving behavior is “religious.” Instead, he sees a desperate crisis, is moved with compassion, and proceeds to provide continued life-giving support. In the twenty-first century, evangelical Christians are to respond like the Samaritan; they are to relieve the suffering poor and to provide an example to those who are not believers. Christians are to “become the neighbor.”
James argues for the comprehensive aspect of the Law, including the Decalogue in Exodus 20:1-17, the love commandment, and the “weightier things of the Law” that are affirmed by Jesus (Matt. 21:21). People must not pick and choose which law they obey or neglect. The dual love-commandment highlights the absurdity of obeying the Decalogue and yet refusing to honor or love the neighbor, that is, the disadvantaged poor (James 2:8-13). This means that in the context of the twenty-first century, James (and Jesus) orients the Christian community to be responsive to all needy persons, regardless of their specific needs.
The Powerful Rich
James indicts the powerful rich for their self-centered exploitation of the poor.9 He warns that the wealthy are in great danger of self-trust (bragging 1:9), which will give way to humiliation since the rich have “had their day” at the expense of the poor. A rich person will “pass away like a wild flower” (1:10), will “wail” (klau?), and “cry out in pain” (ololuz?) because their riches rot, are moth-eaten, or tarnish (5:2-3). They amass flawed items and neglect people. Their conduct is clearly irreligious, inhumane, and antisocial.
Yet some of these powerful rich persons became part of James’s assembly. He caricatures religious profession with the unconscionable words:
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (1:16)
In the twenty-first century, those who are responsible for job applications often reflect similar attitudes to those in James’s community.
Nineteen-year old Sheila worked in a fast-food restaurant and was laid off. She obtained a bed in a shelter for women and as part of her intake, a physical exam was required. When I performed the physical she was fine. During our conversation she was a fount of optimism: she was going to get work and move out of the shelter in just a few weeks. Her job loss was simply a “bump” in her plans for the future.
In the fall, I saw her again, this time for a cold and sore throat. She was much duller and far less optimistic. She had been in the shelter for three months and still was jobless. People were interested, but when she gave them a shelter address or phone number, they responded, “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.” Rapidly, she deteriorated into the black hole of depression. She was brutally victimized through physical and sexual abuse, and she thereby developed several STDs.
What would a job offer have meant for Sheila when she was looking for a means of independent living?
And when people with the means to provide for the physical needs of the distraught, scantily clothed, hungry, and jobless instead offer them platitudes like go in peace, be warmed, be filled, or go get a job, their words mockingly reinforce the community’s social stratification. Likewise, it is very difficult for people to reflect upon and accept the Christian message when their primary concern is physical survival, when their immediate need is for housing, food, clothing, and a job.
The rich often prosper by virtue of oppression. James argues that wages are not patronizing help to the poor but their actual due. He warns the rich that when they pray for bounty to spend freely on their own pleasures (4:2-4) they are causing enmity with God (4:5). Recently, greedy aggressors have taken center stage in national and global politics; we are now all very familiar with how powerful rich lenders in the subprime mortgage industry victimized people through corrupt loans, balloon payments, rising interest rates, and qualifying people who they knew could not repay them. Regardless of whether such aggressors are inside or outside of the Christian community, James states that God will not answer their prayer; they are God’s enemies.
The Vulnerable Poor
James provides encouragement to the vulnerable poor. He specifically addresses the “poor” (ho pt?chos in 2:3), individuals dressed as beggars; “the humble one”s (ho tapeinos in 1:9), who he refers to as “brother” and “sister” (2:15); and the “widows” and “orphans,” who he seems to deem the most vulnerable to oppression (1:27). Indeed, true religion means “To visit orphans and widows [. . .] which may be literally to go and spend time with them; but certainly it is also to do so in order to make provision for their needs.”10 These poor (anawim) can only wait for their vindication by God; they are deprived by no fault of their own but are “drastic examples”11 of victims of greed, aggression, and illegal practices.
James also warns the poor of their temptation to show ungodly partiality (lit. to lift the face) to the rich. After one look at their visitors, the poor will guide the rich looking visitors to the more prestigious and comfortable seats, whereas the shabbily clothed visitors are left standing or are told, “Sit on the floor by my feet” (2:2-3). James argues that if the community shows partiality at all, it should be expressed as partiality to the poor. Preferential treatment of the rich insults the poor (2:6) and reveals “double-mindedness” and “doubting” (1:6-8). “It should be unthinkable to hold the faith and exercise discrimination between people.”12 And James is especially harsh with those who exercise such preferential treatment; they break the royal love commandment by their favoritism, classism, and lawbreaking to the extent that those who short shrift the poor are considered murderers (2:8-11).
What can be done in our twenty-first-century context? Christians, churches, and charities are better equipped than government to empower the poor because they can use discernment, discretion, and accountability when assisting needy persons, especially in issues of morality. On the other hand, government is practically mandated through formulas to treat everyone the same, irrespective of their practical need or level of responsibility. The following narrative expresses a charity’s genuine care as well as a hidden partiality.
Rose started Columbia Road Health Services (CRHS), a free clinic for the homeless, unemployed, and working poor in Washington DC, and later the Washington DC ministry for Health Care for the Homeless (HCH). After years of working with the homeless, the entire staff felt the need for a place where homeless men could recover. As Rose walked to the CRHS, she passed an abandoned home that had become a crack-house and a haven for the addicted. Every day for three years, she and her fellow nuns stopped in front of the house to pray, convinced that a respite care center would replace the crack-house.
Soon a few thousand dollars came in and was earmarked for the purchase and restoration of the house. One day Rose’s pastor, Gordon Cosby, called concerning a lady wanting to donate in person. Rose asked Gordon to thank the lady, accept the donation, and inform her that she was too busy to come, but Gordon insisted and Rose came to his office to meet her. They chatted for a bit and Rose wondered how long the discussion would continue. Then the woman said she wanted to offer a donation and hoped it would help fund the project. The two-million dollar check was enough for the purchase price, extensive renovation, and operating expenses for six months!
It became Christ House, a respite care center for homeless men, offering a warm, clean, and safe place while they recover from serious illness and prepare for employment.
Commitment, compassion, and prayer by Rose and the nuns were effective. However, we note a silent partiality concerning the woman’s begrudging welcome; surely the reception would have been markedly different if Rose knew the dollar amount of the gift.
The condition of the poor is exacerbated by aggressors who are legally well-represented. The destitute have no legal recourse for social justice because they have no funds for hiring lawyers or bribing judges—baksheesh (2:6-7), a corrupt practice in many countries. Although James does not say that God loves the vulnerable oppressed more than their powerful oppressors, he does says that God takes his stand with the poor, weak, and vulnerable—those who have been cheated out of their just wages. He explains that the only cry that God will hear is the cry of the oppressed day-laborers (James 5:4), that God will act in retribution. And in the twenty-first century, there is a growing hiatus between the rich and the poor and a corresponding decline in the middle-class in numerous countries; this is a trend that James suggests is not honored by God.
James does not advocate poverty for its own sake but he does assure the responsible poor that they are special signs of God’s bias; they are “rich with respect to faith,” they will wear the victor’s crown/wreath (stephanos 1:12; 2:5-6), and they are assured of God’s love. God’s choice of the poor is countercultural with respect to the world’s assessment of poverty as a curse. James encourages the poor to change their sad perspective to a paradoxical joy, grounded in their future exaltation (1:9). James also portrays a profound reversal that will take place from the current stratified situation (1:9; see Prov. 1:9; 4:9; 12:4; I Thess. 2:19; I Cor. 9:25; II Tim. 4:8; Rev. 2:9).
Whereas the rich are called to compassion, the suffering poor are encouraged to reflect endurance and patience during their “testing” (peirasmos) as an occasion for joy (1:2-4). The grounds for such paradoxical joy is that their testing will prove the worth (dokimos) of their faith and build a certain hope for their future. The adjective, dokimos (worthy or approved), derives from the field of metallurgy wherein precious metals are put to the refiner’s fire through smelting. The smelted metal is stamped dokimos, meaning “proven,” “refined,” or “worthy.” The result of such communal testing leads to the quality of “endurance” (hupomon?—staying power).
The poor are “tested,” summoned to endure, and are thereby “proven.” The second exhortation to endure follows the portion relating to the financial contrast between the rich and the poor (1:9-11) and the pending great reversal. The two calls to endurance (1:2-4; 1:12) thus “bookend” the great reversal (1:9-11). In light of this future reversal, faith-filled people can provide needed help and support in the context of tragedy and suffering.
Kevin’s job offer was dependent upon a physical. His landlord had given him until tomorrow to either prove income or move out by eviction. I invited him in and gave him the physical. He told me that he and his son had been working as brick masons on the then new U Street Metro station. His son left for lunch but did not return. When the father went to find his son, he discovered police at the diner. His son had entered, disturbed a robbery in progress, and was killed. As he attended to his son’s funeral, Kevin missed some work and was laid off. Now he has another job offer, which will insure his residence in an apartment. One of my greatest accomplishments in life is saving that proud hardworking father from homelessness.
James encourages the poor that they are not governed by an inexorable fate. He reassures them that their trials, which include poverty, are not signs of divine disfavor or rejection. He calls them to a responsible approach, noted in his metaphor of the farmer who works his field, who “waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains” (5:7-8). The coming presence (Parousia), or its idea, is highlighted with three similar expressions: “be patient until the Lord’s coming” (5:7), “the Lord’s coming is near” (5:8), and “the Judge is standing at the door” (5:9). James counters the bitter complaint of the poor with a call for patience; they are to find security in their relationship with God—without judgment (5:9) and in a shared experience with “good company,” the OT prophets (5:10) and Job (5:11).
The oppressed are directed to “fine conduct,” and James defines such conduct as meekness or gentleness (pra?t?s in 3:13) and responsible behavior. Moreover, James argues that envy has no place in the Christian community: “These things should not be” (3:10). The false wisdom that James attacks is selfish-materialism; he states that such “wisdom” is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic in origin (3:15). According to James the fruit of fine conduct is seen through endurance, the promise of the crown of eternal life, responsibility, answered prayer, a profound reversal of conditions, divine approval, expectant faith, and serenity in peace-making.
Unity and Integrity
The powerful rich and vulnerable poor are to individually and communally respond to James’s exhortations in Christian unity and integrity. And of course, God is our model for such a response as he is generous and gracious (1:15); he gives without regard to personal status and without equivocation. Moreover, our petitions need to be expressed through faith without doubting. Double-mindedness can be expressed through unfeeling words toward the marginalized.
I heard that a former U.S. President stood up and flipped through the Washington Post Classifieds and stated, “Golly Geez. I dunno why there are so many homeless people. Look at all of these jobs in the paper. I guess with all these jobs available, those homeless people just don’t want to work and would rather be on the street with no responsibilities.” It appeared that the President failed to actually take the time to understand that the jobs were for engineers, lawyers, and other white collar positions.
James traces disunity to people who are torn apart by conflicting desires, people who are motivated by a greed that ignites wars, fighting, and strife (4:1-2), a “desire that does not attain its end but sends the greedy back with empty hands.” Greed reflects the world’s basic corruption (4:1, 4) and is linked with “adulteresses,” being “friends with the world” (4:4), and “double-mindedness” (1:8; 4:8). The one who separates hearing from doing is a deceiver (1:22-24) with an empty faith (2:14-17). Conversely, people who are motivated by generosity will promote unity and integrity of life. Disunity and double-dealing are also evident in the socioeconomic separation of the rich and powerful from the poor and vulnerable; in sins of partiality, omission, and compromise (4:4, 4:7), and in stark inhumanity:
One night I saw a patient with a terrible headache. I went to see him and his story was that he had been to the public hospital, and they had sent him away. I asked him if he had any idea why his head was hurting, and he said that he had been shot. He had gotten his SSI check early in the day, was robbed by two fellows, and when he resisted, one of them pulled out a .25 caliber pistol and shot him. In my office, he uncovered his head, and when his hair was parted, I could see the entry wound, and when cleaned, I could see through the first layer of skull to where the bullet was lodged in the second layer.
I called an ambulance crew. When they arrived, I introduced myself and informed them of the nature of the problem. All they seemed to hear was the complaint of a headache. “Oh, so you want to go to the hospital with your headache and get drugs? That’s what this is all about,” was their response.
In this example Dr. Lewis observed an unwillingness on the part of the ambulance crew to genuinely help the wounded victim. Their stubborn disregard for the man is illustrative of how class divisions continue to influence how we fail to see, hear, or act on behalf of our brothers and sisters.
In contrast to such inhumanity, James insists on an integrity that leads to perfection and the “oneness” of God, which is to be reflected in the community experience. The adjective perfect (teleios) is used nineteen times in the New Testament, and five of those times occur in the book of James (1:4a, b, 17, 25; 3:2); there are also occurrences of the perfect word-family in James 2:8 and 22. But when James speaks of perfection, he does not mean a complete moral perfection; rather, perfect signifies a basic integrity of hearing, willing, and doing. The perfect word-family also includes other adjectives such as whole (holos in 2:10; 3:2, 3:6), entire, complete (holokleros in 1:4), and mature. James suggests that this perfection is the expected mature Christian response to the gospel’s message. In James, the adjective perfect/complete (teleios) is also used to modify important nouns such as work (ergon in 1:4; 2:22), faith (pistis in 2:22), law (nomos in 1:25; 2:8, 10), and wisdom (sophia in 1:5, 17); all of these attitudes reflect God’s “oneness.” Works by the rich and poor are the necessary complements to faith; where such integrity exists, it reflects “wholeness” or “maturity” (telei?sis) for both rich and poor, which leads to the community’s unity.
Imperative verbs occur fifty-four times within James’s 108 verses; they are active imperatives that are used to summon personal and communal attitudes and behavior which is in keeping with God’s intent for a “complete” (perfect) and unified community. James’s imperatives reflect a socially sensitive conscience that is alert to the disadvantaged. He is a spokesman for the weak and poor—the victims of aggression, corruption, and oppression—and he says that true religion requires sensitivity to the poor, awareness of socioeconomic stratification, and commitment to the righteous poor. He indicts the rich businessmen, the large landowners, and anyone who shows partiality to the powerful. And James also speaks to the weak poor, summoning them to fine conduct and a work ethic. He exposes the sin of omission—not obeying the commandment to love one’s neighbor, rich or poor—and he envisions the “grand reversal” when the tables will be turned.
In James’ day as well as in our day, we need to consider a distinction between those who are poor through no fault of their own and those who have direct responsibility for their bleak existence. In 3:13, James draws attention to the “fine conduct” that is required from the poor; he emphasizes that the poor who lack fine conduct are not “entitled” to financial support because they are characterized by envy and selfish ambition. Indeed, the church is not called to enable irresponsible or addictive lifestyles. Discernment needs to be coupled with indiscriminate compassion. The church should not condemn either the responsible or irresponsible poor, but it should encourage both groups to be responsible and more productive. Thus, empowerment should be the church’s goal rather than enablement. And on the poor’s side, their faith should be met by a responsible work ethic. Faith without fine conduct or a responsible work ethic is also double-minded and empty (3:13-18).
Over the past half-century, marked progress has been made in reducing U.S. poverty; the poverty-rate has dropped from 20% to 10%.13 My colleague Doug Walker suggests that although government can provide some minimal support, churches and charities can better tailor their assistance to individual and familial circumstances; they can couple discernment and discretion with initial and long-term accountability. For example, the church can assist individuals who have lost jobs according to a flexible timetable that encourages the jobless in their searches. Walker states that (1) we cannot let people and their vulnerable children starve, and (2) we cannot create situations (locally, nationally, and internationally) that foster unhealthy dependence. The church can also be more courageous and proactive in confronting the powerful rich concerning their temptations to hoard wealth.
As a community, James reveals our need for compassion, sacrifice, and activity on behalf of the marginalized poor, our need to act sacrificially to meet the needs within and without the Christian community in ways that do not enable irresponsible lifestyles. James’s approach is by no means exhaustive, but his instructions reveal timeless principles for addressing local and global issues of social justice. Faith unites both the poor and rich in action; rich givers are called to sacrifice while the poor recipients are to make an effort toward self-help (fine conduct). Christians should constantly search for opportunities to help.
Jim is the president of a business located in the Tidewater area who experienced a major change of perspective and approach to his relative wealth. In the earlier years of his profitable company, he said that he had been driven by numerous selfish and materialistic goals within his own spiritual context of nominal church attendance. An emergency hospitalization, due to work-related stress, “woke him up” to an honest reevaluation of his priorities, reflected in his finances. A friend, Dwight, introduced Jim to the book of Malachi, which Jim believes was marked by the divine indictment, “You have robbed me” (3:8). As a result of his reading the book of Malachi, Jim gave and continued to give a meaningful sum to the Samaritan House. He incorporated tithing and offerings, not only in his personal life, but within the life of his business. Jim developed and included a tithing calculator at the bottom of his company’s monthly financial statement to remind him and to quickly calculate for him the amount of his corporate tithe, thus involving the company and its employees in giving. To maintain some anonymity, Jim only makes donations with corporate checks.
Jim continues to be motivated not simply by the command to give, but by the higher principle of giving back in light of the blessings and resources he had received. In his involvement with the Samaritan House, Jim has made a personal goal of helping the Samaritan House acquire enough shelters and beds to meet the need. This means that, in the future, a mother and her children will not be turned away for lack of space. He always listens intently for opportunities to give back to needy people in practical ways. To Jim, helping others has evolved into a divine calling and a life purpose. In his giving, he feels himself to be blessed as he gives to others. Jokingly, he mentioned that perhaps his giving is somewhat selfish since he feels he has been the recipient of so much more blessing.
Jesus says, “Blessed are they that hear God’s word and keep it,” to which James adds, “Blessed is the doer in his deed.”14 Jim shows us that it is when hearing is knit together with doing that we demonstrate genuine faith. Thus, if we listen, we will be empowered by compassion, courage, and Christ to use our words, finances, and actions to holistically provide for the legitimate needs of the impoverished and the needs of the rich. We will hear the “wisdom that comes from heaven,” a wisdom that is full of mercy and impartiality (3:17). Indeed, we must show mercy to receive mercy and blessings (2:12; cf. Matt. 5:7), and mercy will always win the case in God’s tribunal (2:13).
2. Dr. Lewis now resides in Norfolk, VA, where he pastors a Nazarene church and has completed his DMin degree concerning spirituality and meditation along the lines of Eastern thought. Unless otherwise noted, all of the long quotations in this essay are from my interview with Dr. Lewis.
3. supplemental security income.
4. I have discussed at length some of the socioeconomic issues in the global community with my colleague Dr. Douglas Walker, Professor of Economics in the Robertson School of Government of Regent University (Virginia Beach, VA).
5. Rudolph Schnackenburg, The Moral Teaching of the New Testament (Waco, TX: Word Publishing Co, 1988), 358.
6. In several places, James uses Leviticus to substantiate his exhortations, most pointedly with the law of love, which is enunciated in the Torah but ratified by Jesus’s behavior and teaching.
7. “Samaritans, foreigners, and resident aliens who do not join the community of Israel within 12 months are excluded.” J. Fichtner, “pl?sion,” TDNT, VI (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1971), 315.
8. See also Jesus’s parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-46).
9. The terms rich one (plousios) and poor one (pt?chos) speak to the issue of wealth and its absence. Mention of the rich in 1:9-10 prepares for later directives to the rich (2:2-4, 5-12, 15-16; 4:13-17; 5:1-6).
10. Sophie Laws, A Commentary on the Epistle of James (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1980), 89.
11. Ralph P. Martin, James: Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Publishing Co, 1988), lxxv-lxxvi.
12. Sophie Laws, The Epistle of James (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1980), 93. The emphasis is hers.
13. Table 4 of the Historical Poverty Tables of the U.S. Census Bureau. While 9.3% of Caucasian families with children live in dire poverty, 21% of African American families with children live in dire poverty. These figures do not take into account the 1.4 billion people in the global community who live in abject poverty.
14. And as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in Ethics (New York: The Macmillan Co, 1962), 170, “There is a false doing and a false hearing. Both say the same thing.”
J. Lyle Story
J. Lyle Story (PhD from Fuller Seminary) is Professor of Biblical languages and New Testament in the School of Divinity of Regent University in Virginia Beach. He is the author of the widely used texts Greek to Me and the Greek Memory System. He has written numerous articles in journals and dictionaries, and he is a contributing author to The Spirit-Filled Life Bible.