Sabbath School Lesson Commentary for October 25-31, 2014
In the first half of James, chapter 2, we are given a stunning picture of what love looks like. Just as Jesus illustrated this principle with the story of The Good Samaritan, James pictures two classes of people coming into an assembly and how they are treated.
So far James has encouraged his readers to keep the law, but now he shows them the kind of love that must accompany our lawkeeping. It’s a picture of love in action. This is what constitutes being “a doer of the word, and not a hearer only.” True love means showing impartiality to others, no matter how much risk is involved.
Who we love seems to be as important as how much we love. If we only love our close friends and family members, we are no different than anyone else in the world. The true test of love is our ability to love even those who are unworthy of our love, who are unappreciative of our love, and who even resist our love.
Only through God can we achieve this kind of unrestricted love. Therefore it’s the kind of love that draws others to Christ. No wonder Jesus and James described it in such detail. This is the kind of love we must strive for and develop. Yes, it’s the kind of love that grows over time. We must cultivate it in our life, if we are to be like Jesus.
Key Text: “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” James 2:13 NASB
The King James Version says “mercy rejoiceth against judgment”, so I was thankful for other versions to help clarify this phrase. But even then we might be left to ponder its real meaning. How does mercy win over, or triumph over, judgment?
There’s a common saying that “it is better to err on the side of caution.” But some Christians have also used the phrase, “it is better to err on the side of mercy.” Ellen White even uses it in the book Education, when she talked about disciplining children.
Would you rather have your children grow up and say they had “fair” parents, or that they had “loving” parents? I think most of us would hope to be included in the second category.
Could this not be what James is talking about here? In the first part of the verse, he enjoins us to have mercy on others. Shouldn’t we have mercy in our hearts, rather than a harsh, judgmental attitude or behavior? That certainly fits with his example given at the beginning of the chapter.
Sunday: The Man in Gold
The first four verses in James 2 shows two contrasting figures entering a religious meeting or assembly. The first man appears wealthy, well-groomed, and obviously an important figure. The other man though is very disheveled, and obviously unbathed for quite some time, certainly of the lower class of society. How would you likely treat each of these “visitors” to your church service?
Society’s values would normally dictate some preferential treatment of the rich guest. Especially if that personage was responsible for helping finance your church facility or for supporting your cause in some way. But James points out the error of this partiality. In God’s eyes, both visitors hold the same status and both should be given the same privileged treatment.
I’ll never forget what a fellow church member told me. He has Down’s Syndrome, someone who has undoubtedly been rebuffed by society at times. He has often remarked that our church treats him like a king! Well, I’m sure we just treat him like everyone else; but to him, compared to other places he’s been, he feels like royalty when he’s with us.
Luke 11:43 shows us what James was talking about in his day. “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” NKJV
But how did Jesus conduct Himself among those considered low class? “And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, ‘How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?’ “ Mark 2:16 NKJV
Discussion Questions: Although we recognize our tendency to look down on others below us in society, can we also harbor prejudices against the very wealthy and famous in our world? How does this constitute breaking the tenth commandment, though shalt not covet?
Which of the ten commandments addresses the pride that is evident when we look down on those less fortunate? In what way are we putting ourselves before or above God when we mistreat others? Read Matthew 25:45 (“…as you did not do it to the least of these…”).
Romans 12:2 says to not to be “conformed to this world”. How can we be in this world, and associate with sinners as Jesus did, but not share its values and practices? Read the whole verse in Romans 12:2. How would being in a boat illustrate our relationship with the world?
Monday: Class Struggle
James really causes us to think about why we treat the rich better than the poor. He points out in James 2:5 that the poor are often rich in faith. But in verse 6 he reminds us that it’s the rich who often oppress others and are even guilty of blaspheming God.
Of course, we realize that there are poor people who blaspheme God as well, and some of the wealthy are great philanthropists, rather than being oppressors. But James made this statement to challenge our typical thinking about the classes.
We know that during Roman rule, there was much discrimination against the poor and in favor of the rich. There were harsher penalties for lawbreaking for lower-class persons.
But is this no less true of our world today? Even in this obviously blessed country of the United States, there have been studies that verify legal convictions and penalties for the same offense for certain races and income levels far outweigh those for people with more means.
It’s no wonder that class struggle is still with us. Satan is working overtime to build up barriers between people. It’s been one of his most successful strategies in thwarting God’s mission for His people, which is to witness to “every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6).
Discussion Questions: Is your church one where everyone feels welcome and valued? Not just the poor, but everyone, regardless of their background, dress, disabilities, or idiosyncrasies. That loud-spoken old man, who is half-deaf and hogs all the Sabbath class discussion time…right on down to the little tot who can’t sit still and disturbs his little friends who are trying to listen during story time up front? Pick any annoying person and Satan will whisper malicious things about them in your ear that you tend to gossip about later. How do you show love instead to these individuals? Give practical suggestions.
Which is it easier–to be judgmental or merciful?
Tuesday: Loving Our Neighbors
There were Levitical texts that enjoined the Israelites to love their neighbor. Leviticus 19:18 says to “…love your neighbor as yourself…” NKJV But reading the verse in context suggests that it was speaking of their neighbor as being their fellow Israelites.
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:17, 18 NKJV
Over time, these verses had been interpreted to mean that it was alright to be angry or even hate those who were not their brother, those they considered their enemies. There was even a separatist sect of devout Jews who thought it was not just permitted to hate their enemies, but it was their duty to hate them.
Jesus attempted to straighten out their thinking in The Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.‘ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Matthew 5:43, 44 NKJV
A certain lawyer, hearing these words, asked Jesus later, “who is my neighbor?” To which Jesus replied with the parable of The Good Samaritan.
Jesus’ life was an example of this kind of selfless love for those who didn’t deserve it, for those who never loved Him back, but rather chose to take His life on the cruel cross.
Discussion Questions: Discuss the meaning of this quote: “When we see human beings in distress, whether through affliction or through sin, we shall never say, This does not concern me.” Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 504.
To what lengths should we go to help those in need? What restrictions, if any, should be attached to our giving?
Wednesday: The Whole Law
Here are some texts that refer to the whole law:
- Matthew 5:18, 19 “…one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law…whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments…” NKJV
- Deuteronomy 27:26 “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them…” KJV
But we also have several verses that indicate the whole law and the love behind it:
- Matthew 22:36-40 “…On these two commandments [to love the Lord and your neighbor, v. 37-39] hang all the Law and the Prophets.” NKJV
- Romans 13:8-10 “…he who loves another has fulfilled the law…” NKJV
- Galatians 5:14, which teaches that the whole law involving love, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” NKJV
These and other passages make one believe that you can’t separate the law, the whole law, from love, on which it was founded. And you can’t keep the law without a commitment of love to keep them all.
Therefore the question posed to Jesus in Matthew 22:36 about which was the most important commandment, was probably meant to trap Him. Jesus pointed to love, love of God and of your neighbor, as the most important thing about the law. Because without love, the evidence of our relationship with God, keeping of any of God’s law is useless.
Some have interpreted this to mean that simply loving negates our need to keep the ten commandments. But the Bible seems to indicate that you can’t separate the law from love, which would be exactly what you would do, if you claim that love is all that’s needed.
Discussion Questions: Why is our salvation not simply a matter of having enough good deeds to outweigh our bad ones?
How does our disobedience of God’s law damage our relationship with God and others?
Ideally our obedience comes from our love of God and not just a sense of obligation, but is just working from a sense of duty or obligation always wrong? What could be its value?
Galatians 6:2 speaks about the “law of Christ”. It says “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Is this law of Christ referring to the law of love then which, combined with other passages, was found to be the whole law?
Thursday: Judged by the Law
We’ve covered “mercy” pretty well so far in this lesson. But we mustn’t ignore the “judgment” spoken of in our key text. God in love has given us ample information about what His judgment involves. It isn’t meant to frighten us into submission, but rather to warn us of those actions that may separate us from our Father’s love in the end.
Here are some texts that show us that our good works will be considered on Judgment Day.
- ” ‘He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him–the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.’ “ Matthew 12:48 NKJV
- “(for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified;“ Romans 2:13 NKJV
- “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” II Corinthians 5:10 NKJV
- “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged each one according to his works.” Revelation 20:12, 13 NKJV
Yes, our actions, our deeds, our works, will be considered in the Judgment. How else could the universe see God as fair and just? There must be a standard that God uses to determine whether we are safe to enter a sin-free universe.
One must remember, however, that Jesus’ righteousness is available to cover our impure and selfish acts that we have confessed and repented of. This covering grace is the only thing that can make us worthy of our final reward. So, in the end, we can see how mercy will triumph over even judgment. If it weren’t for that mercy, none of us would have the righteousness needed to join God’s heavenly throng.
Discussion Questions: Read James 2:9, which mentions the law convicting us. The Greek word for “convict” used here can also mean “expose”, “punish”, “convince”, and “discipline”. Read the verse several times, substituting the alternate meanings.
Can someone be “convicted” but not convinced? See also Romans 3:20. What levels of “knowing” are there in our personal relationships? How does this apply to our “knowing” the law?
- High on James agenda was not just keeping the law (being doers of the word), but doing it through love, the motivating force that enables us to keep the law perfectly.
- James tells us in practical language how we can show our love to others, and how we might find ourselves negligent in this area.
- We are called to be God’s ambassadors by revealing to the world His love and mercy.
- It’s our love for God that spurs us on in doing the things that He has called us to do.
- In this way, the balance of judgment and mercy is shown to us and to others.
Benjamin Franklin, a well-respected diplomat in the eighteenth century, wrote that the qualities of a diplomat are “sleepless tact, unmovable calmness, and a patience that no folly, no provocation, no blunders may shake.”
Consider your work as one of God’s ambassadors, as a resident representative living on this planet to represent God’s kingdom. Are you cultivating the qualities necessary to perform your duties well?
Meditate on these verses (perhaps begin to memorize them!) as you contemplate your role in God’s army of diplomats:
- Galatians 5:22–the fruits of the Spirit
- I Corinthians 13:4-7–the definition of love
- Ephesians 6:10-18–the armor of God
Next Week: Faith That Works
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