Lamentations helping us lament

Lamentations is a difficult book to either read, or listen to. It needs to be read against the backdrop of scripture, particularly the historical books in the Old Testament which recount Israel and Judah’s unfaithfulness to God.

But this is all written for us as well. We too have been unfaithful, and we live in the midst of unfaithfulness. And we too pay a price, along with others, for our unfaithfulness.

What Lamentations recounts is horrifying, to say the least. The consequences of evil, which can be evil themselves, and the downward spiral of sin. But it is written by someone seeking God, and God’s mercy. But don’t read just part of it.

Today I lament over the consequences of sin, both individually and corporately. And I seek God, and God’s mercy.

How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
has now become a slave.

Bitterly she weeps at night,
tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers
there is no one to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her;
they have become her enemies.

After affliction and harsh labor,
Judah has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations;
she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to her appointed festivals.
All her gateways are desolate,
her priests groan,
her young women grieve,
and she is in bitter anguish.

Her foes have become her masters;
her enemies are at ease.
The Lord has brought her grief
because of her many sins.
Her children have gone into exile,
captive before the foe.

All the splendor has departed
from Daughter Zion.
Her princes are like deer
that find no pasture;
in weakness they have fled
before the pursuer.

In the days of her affliction and wandering
Jerusalem remembers all the treasures
that were hers in days of old.
When her people fell into enemy hands,
there was no one to help her.
Her enemies looked at her
and laughed at her destruction.

Jerusalem has sinned greatly
and so has become unclean.
All who honored her despise her,
for they have all seen her naked;
she herself groans
and turns away.

Her filthiness clung to her skirts;
she did not consider her future.
Her fall was astounding;
there was none to comfort her.
“Look, Lord, on my affliction,
for the enemy has triumphed.”

The enemy laid hands
on all her treasures;
she saw pagan nations
enter her sanctuary—
those you had forbidden
to enter your assembly.

All her people groan
as they search for bread;
they barter their treasures for food
to keep themselves alive.
“Look, Lord, and consider,
for I am despised.”

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering
that was inflicted on me,
that the Lord brought on me
in the day of his fierce anger?

“From on high he sent fire,
sent it down into my bones.
He spread a net for my feet
and turned me back.
He made me desolate,
faint all the day long.

“My sins have been bound into a yoke;
by his hands they were woven together.
They have been hung on my neck,
and the Lord has sapped my strength.
He has given me into the hands
of those I cannot withstand.

“The Lord has rejected
all the warriors in my midst;
he has summoned an army against me
to crush my young men.
In his winepress the Lord has trampled
Virgin Daughter Judah.

“This is why I weep
and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute
because the enemy has prevailed.”

Zion stretches out her hands,
but there is no one to comfort her.
The Lord has decreed for Jacob
that his neighbors become his foes;
Jerusalem has become
an unclean thing among them.

“The Lord is righteous,
yet I rebelled against his command.
Listen, all you peoples;
look on my suffering.
My young men and young women
have gone into exile.

“I called to my allies
but they betrayed me.
My priests and my elders
perished in the city
while they searched for food
to keep themselves alive.

“See, Lord, how distressed I am!
I am in torment within,
and in my heart I am disturbed,
for I have been most rebellious.
Outside, the sword bereaves;
inside, there is only death.

“People have heard my groaning,
but there is no one to comfort me.
All my enemies have heard of my distress;
they rejoice at what you have done.
May you bring the day you have announced
so they may become like me.

“Let all their wickedness come before you;
deal with them
as you have dealt with me
because of all my sins.
My groans are many
and my heart is faint.”

How the Lord has covered Daughter Zion
with the cloud of his anger!
He has hurled down the splendor of Israel
from heaven to earth;
he has not remembered his footstool
in the day of his anger.

Without pity the Lord has swallowed up
all the dwellings of Jacob;
in his wrath he has torn down
the strongholds of Daughter Judah.
He has brought her kingdom and its princes
down to the ground in dishonor.

In fierce anger he has cut off
every horn of Israel.
He has withdrawn his right hand
at the approach of the enemy.
He has burned in Jacob like a flaming fire
that consumes everything around it.

Like an enemy he has strung his bow;
his right hand is ready.
Like a foe he has slain
all who were pleasing to the eye;
he has poured out his wrath like fire
on the tent of Daughter Zion.

The Lord is like an enemy;
he has swallowed up Israel.
He has swallowed up all her palaces
and destroyed her strongholds.
He has multiplied mourning and lamentation
for Daughter Judah.

He has laid waste his dwelling like a garden;
he has destroyed his place of meeting.
The Lord has made Zion forget
her appointed festivals and her Sabbaths;
in his fierce anger he has spurned
both king and priest.

The Lord has rejected his altar
and abandoned his sanctuary.
He has given the walls of her palaces
into the hands of the enemy;
they have raised a shout in the house of the Lord
as on the day of an appointed festival.

The Lord determined to tear down
the wall around Daughter Zion.
He stretched out a measuring line
and did not withhold his hand from destroying.
He made ramparts and walls lament;
together they wasted away.

Her gates have sunk into the ground;
their bars he has broken and destroyed.
Her king and her princes are exiled among the nations,
the law is no more,
and her prophets no longer find
visions from the Lord.

The elders of Daughter Zion
sit on the ground in silence;
they have sprinkled dust on their heads
and put on sackcloth.
The young women of Jerusalem
have bowed their heads to the ground.

My eyes fail from weeping,
I am in torment within;
my heart is poured out on the ground
because my people are destroyed,
because children and infants faint
in the streets of the city.

They say to their mothers,
“Where is bread and wine?”
as they faint like the wounded
in the streets of the city,
as their lives ebb away
in their mothers’ arms.

What can I say for you?
With what can I compare you,
Daughter Jerusalem?
To what can I liken you,
that I may comfort you,
Virgin Daughter Zion?
Your wound is as deep as the sea.
Who can heal you?

The visions of your prophets
were false and worthless;
they did not expose your sin
to ward off your captivity.
The prophecies they gave you
were false and misleading.

All who pass your way
clap their hands at you;
they scoff and shake their heads
at Daughter Jerusalem:
“Is this the city that was called
the perfection of beauty,
the joy of the whole earth?”

All your enemies open their mouths
wide against you;
they scoff and gnash their teeth
and say, “We have swallowed her up.
This is the day we have waited for;
we have lived to see it.”

The Lord has done what he planned;
he has fulfilled his word,
which he decreed long ago.
He has overthrown you without pity,
he has let the enemy gloat over you,
he has exalted the horn of your foes.

The hearts of the people
cry out to the Lord.
You walls of Daughter Zion,
let your tears flow like a river
day and night;
give yourself no relief,
your eyes no rest.

Arise, cry out in the night,
as the watches of the night begin;
pour out your heart like water
in the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint from hunger
at every street corner.

“Look, Lord, and consider:
Whom have you ever treated like this?
Should women eat their offspring,
the children they have cared for?
Should priest and prophet be killed
in the sanctuary of the Lord?

“Young and old lie together
in the dust of the streets;
my young men and young women
have fallen by the sword.
You have slain them in the day of your anger;
you have slaughtered them without pity.

“As you summon to a feast day,
so you summoned against me terrors on every side.
In the day of the Lord’s anger
no one escaped or survived;
those I cared for and reared
my enemy has destroyed.”

I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.

Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.

He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.

He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.

Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.

For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.

To crush underfoot
all prisoners in the land,
to deny people their rights
before the Most High,
to deprive them of justice—
would not the Lord see such things?

Who can speak and have it happen
if the Lord has not decreed it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that both calamities and good things come?
Why should the living complain
when punished for their sins?

Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the Lord.
Let us lift up our hearts and our hands
to God in heaven, and say:
“We have sinned and rebelled
and you have not forgiven.

“You have covered yourself with anger and pursued us;
you have slain without pity.
You have covered yourself with a cloud
so that no prayer can get through.
You have made us scum and refuse
among the nations.

“All our enemies have opened their mouths
wide against us.
We have suffered terror and pitfalls,
ruin and destruction.”
Streams of tears flow from my eyes
because my people are destroyed.

My eyes will flow unceasingly,
without relief,
until the Lord looks down
from heaven and sees.
What I see brings grief to my soul
because of all the women of my city.

Those who were my enemies without cause
hunted me like a bird.
They tried to end my life in a pit
and threw stones at me;
the waters closed over my head,
and I thought I was about to perish.

I called on your name, Lord,
from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
to my cry for relief.”
You came near when I called you,
and you said, “Do not fear.”

You, Lord, took up my case;
you redeemed my life.
Lord, you have seen the wrong done to me.
Uphold my cause!
You have seen the depth of their vengeance,
all their plots against me.

Lord, you have heard their insults,
all their plots against me—
what my enemies whisper and mutter
against me all day long.
Look at them! Sitting or standing,
they mock me in their songs.

Pay them back what they deserve, Lord,
for what their hands have done.
Put a veil over their hearts,
and may your curse be on them!
Pursue them in anger and destroy them
from under the heavens of the Lord.

How the gold has lost its luster,
the fine gold become dull!
The sacred gems are scattered
at every street corner.

How the precious children of Zion,
once worth their weight in gold,
are now considered as pots of clay,
the work of a potter’s hands!

Even jackals offer their breasts
to nurse their young,
but my people have become heartless
like ostriches in the desert.

Because of thirst the infant’s tongue
sticks to the roof of its mouth;
the children beg for bread,
but no one gives it to them.

Those who once ate delicacies
are destitute in the streets.
Those brought up in royal purple
now lie on ash heaps.

The punishment of my people
is greater than that of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment
without a hand turned to help her.

Their princes were brighter than snow
and whiter than milk,
their bodies more ruddy than rubies,
their appearance like lapis lazuli.

But now they are blacker than soot;
they are not recognized in the streets.
Their skin has shriveled on their bones;
it has become as dry as a stick.

Those killed by the sword are better off
than those who die of famine;
racked with hunger, they waste away
for lack of food from the field.

With their own hands compassionate women
have cooked their own children,
who became their food
when my people were destroyed.

The Lord has given full vent to his wrath;
he has poured out his fierce anger.
He kindled a fire in Zion
that consumed her foundations.

The kings of the earth did not believe,
nor did any of the peoples of the world,
that enemies and foes could enter
the gates of Jerusalem.

But it happened because of the sins of her prophets
and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed within her
the blood of the righteous.

Now they grope through the streets
as if they were blind.
They are so defiled with blood
that no one dares to touch their garments.

“Go away! You are unclean!” people cry to them.
“Away! Away! Don’t touch us!”
When they flee and wander about,
people among the nations say,
“They can stay here no longer.”

The Lord himself has scattered them;
he no longer watches over them.
The priests are shown no honor,
the elders no favor.

Moreover, our eyes failed,
looking in vain for help;
from our towers we watched
for a nation that could not save us.

People stalked us at every step,
so we could not walk in our streets.
Our end was near, our days were numbered,
for our end had come.

Our pursuers were swifter
than eagles in the sky;
they chased us over the mountains
and lay in wait for us in the desert.

The Lord’s anointed, our very life breath,
was caught in their traps.
We thought that under his shadow
we would live among the nations.

Rejoice and be glad, Daughter Edom,
you who live in the land of Uz.
But to you also the cup will be passed;
you will be drunk and stripped naked.

Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion;
he will not prolong your exile.
But he will punish your sin, Daughter Edom,
and expose your wickedness.

Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
look, and see our disgrace.
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to foreigners.
We have become fatherless,
our mothers are widows.
We must buy the water we drink;
our wood can be had only at a price.
Those who pursue us are at our heels;
we are weary and find no rest.
We submitted to Egypt and Assyria
to get enough bread.
Our ancestors sinned and are no more,
and we bear their punishment.
Slaves rule over us,
and there is no one to free us from their hands.
We get our bread at the risk of our lives
because of the sword in the desert.
Our skin is hot as an oven,
feverish from hunger.
Women have been violated in Zion,
and virgins in the towns of Judah.
Princes have been hung up by their hands;
elders are shown no respect.
Young men toil at the millstones;
boys stagger under loads of wood.
The elders are gone from the city gate;
the young men have stopped their music.
Joy is gone from our hearts;
our dancing has turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head.
Woe to us, for we have sinned!
Because of this our hearts are faint,
because of these things our eyes grow dim
for Mount Zion, which lies desolate,
with jackals prowling over it.

You, Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.
Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?
Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
renew our days as of old
unless you have utterly rejected us
and are angry with us beyond measure.

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to remain in worship

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Habakkuk (audio) is one of my favorite biblical books, though each and everyone is just as important in its place. Habakkuk is helpful to me, because it challenges God over God’s leading, will, and work. It seemed to Habakkuk that God did not make sense in terms of what God was doing at the time. Habakkuk wanted life to make sense in a world bent against God and God’s will. And it was certainly personal to Habakkuk, who stood as one of God’s prophets, proclaiming God’s word, often of God’s judgment in anticipation of God’s justice and salvation. But what was to unfold according to God’s word given to him as we see in the book seemed to make a mockery of justice. That God would use Babylon which engaged in practices more evil than the nation God was punishing, his own people Israel, made absolutely no sense to Habakkuk.

This single thought, to be taken from the book as a whole, is vitally important, if we’re to be true worshipers of God. Habakkuk ends up being a book of worship, though it is in the process of working through real life that Habakkuk finally gets to that. And part of that process was questioning God.

God did answer, and that’s vitally important for us today. We have God’s answer in spades, when you consider not only the book of Habakkuk, but the entire Book of the Bible. And yet to live through the process, not to mention to try to get our heads around it, or more likely, just to try to begin to understand it, is really beyond us. We need God’s grace and help for sure.

But there’s nothing more important for us as God’s people in Jesus than to be true worshipers of God. To remain in that posture, we will have to work through challenges to God’s goodness and greatness. But it’s vital to us that we are committed to being worshipers of God, come what may. The thought Habakkuk closes with, quoted above. In and through Jesus.

our actions and words matter

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

It was quite the experience the children of Israel of old experienced. Rescued by mighty signs and wonders out of Egypt, saved from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, and then miraculous provision day after day in the wilderness. But their hearts evidently weren’t changed. Surely true of at least many of them. So that we as believers in Christ would write that off as not really applying to us. We have our sins for sure, but our hearts have been and our changed. But Paul in God-breathed (or God-spirited, inspired) scripture didn’t see it that way.

We give ourselves a pass, and others. Instead we need to take these words of scripture as seriously as they are written. Or are they conveniently left behind, instead our focus being on the precious promise? Interestingly one such promise is tucked right into this passage, at the end. We refer to that one quite a lot, but do we know its context? And do we take it seriously?

Well that promise is there to help us avoid the very things destructive to us such as idolatry, sexual immorality, and yes, grumbling. Notice that they had a great spiritual experience according to the text. Yet God wasn’t pleased with most of them. And there were severe consequences as a result.

We don’t want to minimize God’s grace in forgiving us. That’s a needed encouragement, because we all fail along the way, hopefully not in “great transgression,” but even then as we see in scripture, God’s forgiveness is available and offered to us. But we will experience the consequences of such.

God’s call to us here, to me, is to simply take what we do seriously. To not in the name of grace give ourselves a free pass. And to help others both by how we live, and through prayer. And as this passage tells us, God will give us the way out, so that we can endure temptations to do such. In and through Jesus.

our hope in the salvation and new creation to come

Years back I read a book (or parts of it) which suggested that we never arrive to complete satisfaction or fulfillment in this life, even while we do have experiences of such (like just a calm day in the wonder of creation somewhere), because God has something better to come. Not that this life isn’t good, and doesn’t have good, even much good. But there are problems galore. The curse due to sin is certainly on us. It is a fallen, broken existence here, everywhere you look. And yet glorious as well, since God is the creator. And humans are created in God’s image with both a great capacity for good, and due to being sinners and even under the influence of moral, spiritual darkness, for evil.

This doesn’t mean we fold our tents and sit around waiting for the Lord’s return, not at all. We are busy and seeking to live in faith, believing that this world matters in God’s eyes, and should matter to us. It is God’s creation which God redeemed and reconciled to himself in Christ, and will someday make completely new after the final judgment and salvation to come at Christ’s return.

We want to do the best we can now, but with the realization that a curse lies on everything. This makes it harder now, but it also helps us relax and just keep on keeping on while this and that goes wrong, or is not what we would like it to be. Also with the realization that we sadly don’t even have a glimpse of some of what we might and maybe should understand, in this life, that we are limited indeed.

We are thankful to God for answered prayer and all the good in this life. But we know God has something better for us and for the world in the new creation to come when God makes all things new in Jesus. It will still be breathtaking and glorious and wonderful, and much more so, because the curse will be gone. In and through Jesus.

God’s grace received where we’re at

It’s more complicated than that: right? Yes it is. One has to get serious about sins in one’s life which actually violate love for God and for human beings, as well as respect for God’s creation. And yet scripture makes it clear that in and of ourselves, we can’t fix the problem. And yet we’re called to be grieved over it, but not just because of it’s destructive effect on others, as well as on ourselves, but bottom line, because it’s against our Creator.

Sometimes I have been nailed down in defeat, perhaps in part due to a condemning finger pointing at me from the enemy in an actually confusing, unclear way, but strong and relentless, just the same. Or perhaps there is a sense in which I’m undergoing God’s disciplining love over attitudes that I know aren’t right, but seem to have me in their grip, sin seeming to be a power over me at the time, which won’t let go.

It is good, even important to pray to God during such times, to grieve, mourn and wail, as James puts it, as we seek to cleanse our hands (acts) and purify our hearts (attitudes). Even to confess our faults to one another, and pray for each other, so that we might be healed (James 5).

In the end it’s only God’s grace which will prevail in our lives, and make the difference needed. God certainly accepts us where we’re at, but just as certainly, God won’t leave us there. And we have to leave the convicting work of the Spirit in God’s hands, as well as the final judgment of everything. Paul refused to even judge himself, much less someone else. That’s not at all talking about dealing with sin along the way, but probably referring to the final judgment to come, when God will make known all our hidden motives. But along with that thankfully is God’s grace in Christ, so that God does indeed convict and convince us of our sin, so we can confess such sin to God, and receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing. And go on, not at all competent or confident in ourselves, but trusting in God, and God’s promise to us to always meet us where we’re at as we seek to come near to him, in and through Jesus.

God’s faithfulness no matter what

Habakkuk has always been an interesting book to me, some memorable lines, but most of all just the entire letter. The sky was falling, things really bad, especially with what was right in their face: injustice and unfaithfulness on the home front, and what seemed even worse looming on the horizon from an empire on the move, the Babylonians.

I guess it depends somewhat on one’s perspective, but it seem like the sky is falling to many. It’s certainly not an easy time for a good number of people. There are not only concerns, but surely much that needs to be done. And in a certain sense that seems ongoing in this life. All one has to do is open up a good, substantive history book, and one can see that troubles await on every turn, that there’s little that seems to turn out entirely right, that with the good, there’s always the not so good, and sometimes even evil.

And this is not to slap those on the wrist who are activists, and tell them to simmer down, that everything will somehow be okay in the end. There certainly is a time to speak out, as well as to be silent. This is not at all to challenge someone who might be an important player in what’s going on.

But it’s simply to say that God is faithful no matter what. That God is at work in the world: our world, the world around us, and the world at large. And like with the prophet Habakkuk, in ways that we can’t imagine or conceive. Not that everything is good in the end. And not that we don’t bear some responsibility, either. But God is at work to judge and bring salvation.

Habakkuk couldn’t see that, nor would he have if God would have shown him. It evidently would have made no sense to him; he would not have been able to track with it. I think oftentimes that’s a major part of my problem. I want to somehow see the light somewhere, which is certainly at the end of the tunnel. But I can’t. And I can’t begin to see the larger picture like God does. Perhaps what I need to envision in my mind is an empty canvas, with God being the one who is painting, perhaps over coloring which seems dark and meaningless, perhaps even chaotic. And God might use our hand a bit in the painting, most likely so if we’re open to that.

God is at work in the world. It’s important for us to trust God no matter what, and to remain in faith in God’s covenant faithfulness in Jesus. And to worship. Just as Habakkuk did in his day, the letter bearing his name preserved for us to be translated into our day. In and through Jesus.

judging and favoring others versus showing mercy

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:1-13

James makes it clear that favoritism of any kind is never acceptable. As Christians we should go out of our way to include those who would be marginalized for whatever reason in our group. And that means everyone. Certainly it’s not suggesting that everyone can be considered Christian, or members of our church. But it’s fully accepting and welcoming everyone’s presence.

And we are not to give special favors to those who we think might be a blessing to us, for example the wealthy, who might give generous sums of money. Or think somehow that they’re a cut above the rest. We’re not to think and act as the world does, but as “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ,” as those who follow Jesus.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves is the criteria here, informed by specific commands such as not committing adultery, and not murdering, called “the royal law found in Scripture.” So that we are to be true both to the letter, there are absolutes, and to the heart which is love. In the end, we are all judged by the law that gives freedom. That freedom comes in the form of mercy. We ourselves are in need of it, and we’re to show that same mercy to others. Which through Jesus always triumphs over judgment. In other words it’s freely offered to all who repent and believe. Freely received and freely given in and through Jesus.