James 5

The last chapter of James starts off with strong condemnation against the rich. It tells of their fate on the day of judgement (namely, much weeping and wailing). They have not helped the poor, they have been selfish, they have failed to act justly. Therefore, they are condemned and their corruption will destroy them. The imagery is graphic and striking. There can be no mistaking it: James does not think highly of rich people, especially those who exploit, demean or reject the poor.

Of course, once again, it makes me look to Western culture and society. How much of our values are about accruing wealth without thought of who it affects. This can be from our throw-away culture, with cheap clothes and plastics, that usually mean sweatshops and environmental damage. Or the selfishness of the banks, the business and the political leaders.

There’s an allusion to Jesus’ words in Luke 12:33-34: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This verse concerns me. How many of us actually take these words seriously? How many of us give abundantly generously to the poor and are willing to sell what we have to do it? Would I be willing to sell my laptop or my motorbike or my furniture in order to give the money to the poor? Or am I more concerned about accumulating items that provide fleeting comfort or simply look nice?

We might think, “Oh, I already tithe, I give regularly to charity, I give my 10%” But Jesus’ words would have been addressed to his fellow Jews. They were already giving money and offerings to the temples and giving tax to the Roman Empire. Around 1-2 thirds of their income would have gone this way. Now Jesus is asking them to give more. So, this is a challenge to us. I look around and I see so much stuff. Clutter and books and papers and exercise equipment I hardly use and decorative things that have no actual real function. I’m not sure this is the life that I am called for and I’m pretty sure something needs to change.

The next passage reminds us again of the importance of patience, especially in suffering. Then it discusses the importance of prayer, rejoicing and confession. Finally, James ends with thoughts about leading those who have gone astray back to righteousness.

Reflection

  • How do we live so we pursue justice for the poor?
  • What should our attitude towards money be?
  • How generous is enough?
  • Should we really sell all our things and give to the poor?

1 Timothy 6

Well, this book has not been short of difficult passages and has highlighted many areas in my Biblical that require more research and further reading. Chapter six is no different, and is perhaps a very difficult read, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

This chapter begins with a passage directed at slaves to be respectful to their masters. What we need to remember is that this was written during the Roman period, not during the Atlantic Slave Trade, so this context may help shed light on this. Apparently, around 10% of the entire population of the Roman Empire were slaves during the first century; in Italy is was as high as 30-40%. Also, Paul was written within the legal system of the Roman Empire. The Bible, in this passage, was not encouraging slavery, I believe, but just writing about it as an established fact. Remember, that during the first century, Christians were an oppressed minority, and often persecuted. Therefore, their options would have been restricted.

However, of course, the Atlantic Slave Trade did happen, many years later. Many people used passages (possible such as this one) from the Bible to condone it. However, the legacy of the likes William Wilberforce, whose religious convictions led him to fight for the slave trade to be abolished, is still important to remember. Wilberforce’s actions were very much led by his religious convictions. Interestingly, Wilberforce was also one of the founding members of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Church Mission Society. (I’m currently reading one biography of C.T. Studd and one of William Gladstone, but Wilberforce might be the next on my list.)

Next, this book discusses false teaching and the love of money. It talks about how false teachers cause discord and think godliness and serving the Lord is a means to financial gain. However, godliness should come with contentment, and we should be pleased if “we have food and clothing”. It does remind me of C. T. Studd, who gave away his entire inheritance whilst serving in China and seemed very content with his life because he had clothes and food. In fact, his letters home seemed to extol the virtues of the local Chinese food and how suitable the clothes were for the Chinese climate. Later in the chapter, it tells the rich not to put their hope in money. I know I’m often guilty of that. I think I need to do yet further reading on a Godly attitude towards money. (I need to start writing this list down somewhere!)

Lastly, Timothy is charged to fight the good fight and take care of what has been given to him.

Amos 7-9

I have been keeping up with my Bible reading, but not with the blogging. Although the most important aspect is, of course, reading the Word, writing about it can really help me consolidate and concentrate on what I’m reading. Over the last few days, my internet has been intermittent in the evenings, so blogging was a bit harder.

In Amos 7, the prophet begged the Lord not to show his wrath against Israel. However, God finally told Amos enough was enough. He had measured the people of Israel and the results showed that they were left wanting. They did not measure up. God, the God of justice, needs to correct this.

Obviously, Amos’ prophecies upset a few people and in this chapter, he was told to leave. However, Amos told them that it was God who had told him to say these things and the consequences for Israel’s disobedience would be dire.

Amos 8 again shows the sin of the people of Israel. Their dishonest economic practises have disadvantaged and oppressed the poor. The people have cheated or sold short their goods. They “trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land”.

As a result, God will destroy them. Not only this, but he will hide his face from them. This is perhaps more terrifying, that though they seek for the word of God, they will not find it. Amos 9 reiterates how total the destruction of Israel will be. It seems utterly hopeless.

However, the book of Amos ends with Israel’s restoration. Despite this destruction, he will lift Israel again. There will be redemption. There will be rebuilding. There will be hope. Is this the time we live in, when Jesus is restoring and redeeming this world? Sometimes it’s hard to know which. But we can have hope, that God is restoring his people back to him; that Jesus will come again and Jerusalem will once and for all be made new.

These are the questions that Amos 7-9, and indeed the whole book, have made me ponder:

  • What current political or economic practises are happening that are detestable to the Lord?
  • How are we complicit in the trampling and oppression of the poor?
  • What will the consequences for us?
  • How do we let justice flow like a river?
  • How do we show are we a people of hope of a new heaven and new earth?
  • How do we usher in God’s holy and just kingdom to where we are?