The Book that Almost Wasn’t: Poverty, Widows, and Economics ~ James 1

james-1146986On Sunday we started a brand new series looking at James. We opened up this book by realizing that it is a short, straightforward, and punchy book. James pulls no punches and rattles off challenge after challenge in this book. And it’s a needed book.

Douglas Moo says this about James,

All too easily Scripture becomes a book to be analyzed rather than a message to be obeyed. This message is urgently required. All across the world, people are awakening to biblical Christianity. Third World churches are burgeoning, American ‘evangelicalism continues to attract much attention, and European Christians are seeing renewal and a new evangelistic concern. Yet the personal and social transformation that should accompany such revival are, very often, sadly lacking. Why is this? Surely one of the main reasons is that the simple plea of James – ‘do the word’ – is not being heeded. The bible is being translated, commented on, read, studied, preached and analyzed as never before. But it is questionable whether it is being obeyed to a comparable degree. All this suggests that the message of James is one that we all need to hear – and obey. No profound theologian, James’ genius lies in his profound moral earnestness; in his powerfully simple call for repentance for action, and for a consistent Christian lifestyle.

So we are going to look at one chapter a week, highlighting a key text in that chapter. And while James 1 has lots of great things to look at we focused in on verse 27.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

And this is probably one of the most well known verses in the Bible and in the book of James. But it is also a really challenging verse. James here pushes past what we say we believe, to examine our lives. He pushes past whether or not “you believe” in Jesus and asks, what do your actions say about what you believe. Do you care for the poor? Do you care for the orphans, the widows, the oppressed and vulnerable?

James wants to shift the discussion from beliefs to actions. And this is one that makes us uncomfortable because we can hide behind our beliefs. We can  say we believe the right things, and then not do the right things. James won’t have any of that. So he invites us to examine our lives – are we active in binding ourselves to the poor and oppressed?

But James isn’t done there. He then reminds us not just to actively care for the poor, but to also actively reject systems of oppression. He says, “Don’t let the world corrupt you”. And we hear this and think in terms of morality – like sexual sins or doctrinal deviancy. But that’s not James’ point. James’ point is actually about money, poverty, and economics. James’ point is that we should not let the world corrupt us by joining in a system that exploits the poor, vulnerable, and oppressed.

James is an Old Testament prophet and in many senses what mattered was caring for the oppressed (widows, children, etc). And so James says start doing that, and pull out of systems that do not do that. Who cares if the world says it’s okay to live on the backs of the poor – God says it’s evil.

So James calls us to examine not only our actions, but our economic activities to see if there are areas where we are hurting others. And if we live in the West then for sure our economic activity is hurting others. We know this, that things are cheaper here because someone wasn’t paid fairly elsewhere. There are tons of examples of this all over. And James wants to raise it to our eyes and say this needs to change.

Abraham Joshua Heschel writes this,

The exploitation of the poor is to us a misdemeanor; to God, it is a disaster. Our reaction is disapproval; God’s reaction is something no language can convey.

That’s true. So what do we do with all of this?

Well on Sunday I gave the challenge that we need to bind ourselves to the poor. That means both taking positive action of finding ways to supporting and caring, and also “negative” actions. And by that I mean removing things from our lives that hurt the poor, whether that’s supporting companies profiting from war, buying cheap stuff because it’s easier, or whatever else. We are called to actively support the poor, and actively remove things that hurt the poor.

That’s the call of James – it’s clear, and it’s tough for how to live it out. But it’s something worth trying. And that’s the challenge James is calling us to.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Following Jesus means binding your life to the poor and oppressed.

Teaching Points:

  • James is punchy, straightforward, and needed.
  • The true test of any religious profession is not the outward rituals but real actions demonstrated in real lives.
  • James says what matters isn’t doctrine but deeds.
  • We can hide behind our doctrine and our dogma.
  • We want to talk about our beliefs; James wants to examine our lives.
  • If we are to care for the poor we cannot be part of a system that exploits the poor.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Have you thought about how your actions are your beliefs before? What was most challenging in this sermon for you? Were you aware of how some of our buying habits hurts others? What habits might Jesus be asking you to change?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Take your family to serve widows, orphans, or the poor this week. Pick a date and plan it out. Maybe serve at a soup kitchen, maybe get toys together to give to a shelter, maybe bake cookies for someone who has lost someone. Make it real and practical.

Challenge for the Week: What can you add to your life to bind yourself to the poor, and what can you cut out that oppresses the poor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s