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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8 am service, 2001-07-01

Text: James 2:1-16

It is a joy and privilege once again to be able to bring the Word of God to all of you. This is the first of a series of messages on the theme 'Ministries of Mercy'. This theme deals not so much with theology or doctrine, but with practical Christian living. The passage for our first message is taken from the Epistle of James, which speaks a lot about practical Christian living. Let us read James 2:1-17.

You will notice that 'Mercy' is mentioned thrice in v.13 - 'For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.' And we can see that James uses rather strong persuasive words to exhort his readers to show mercy - he appeals that the fact that those who do not show mercy will be judged without mercy, i.e. he will not be saved. This does not mean that a lack of mercy can make anyone lose his salvation. It means that a truly born again Christian will be merciful toward others. Mercy is one of the marks of a true believer. Now James had a purpose for putting this need to show mercy in such strong terms:

In the time that James wrote this epistle, churches were already well established in many parts of the eastern Mediterranean region. But as churches increased in number there were many people in them who became only hearers of the Word and not doers of it. They were not practical Christians. Their religion was merely a formality restricted to attending church each week. Some of these Christians were well-to-do people, businessmen who made their own plans, employers who had servants to work for them. And some of them had lapsed in their Christian life - lacking in love for others, not being careful with the use of their tongue, and even discriminating against the poorer members of the church. It was certainly time for them to change. This is why James wrote to them.

As we look at this background of the book of James, we can perhaps see some similarities that it bears with the church today. This epistle speaks to believers today who have lapsed into complacency, Christians who trust in God and know all their doctrines well, but are simply lacking in true, practical Christianity. It speaks to Christians who need to be reminded that faith without works is a dead faith. It is our hope that through this new series of messages, we too will be reminded of this.

How much practical Christianity is there in our midst? Perhaps your concept of practical Christianity is limited to just attending worship services on Sundays, and reading the Bible and praying each day. If that is your concept of practical Christianity, then you need to understand what James wrote in 1:27, that 'Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.'

Two aspects of practical Christianity are highlighted for us here: Firstly the ministry of mercy to the needy, and secondly, to maintain our testimony for the Lord in the world. This morning we want to focus our attention on the first of these two aspects: The Mercy Ministry. Dearly beloved, we must not close our eyes to the needs of people around us. There are needy people who need our help. Many of us who live in Singapore are so blessed, that we may have forgotten what it means to be poor. It is only when we travel overseas to a third world country that our eyes are opened to the reality of poverty.

We think of our brethren in Batam. The members of the churches there are mostly factory workers and taxi drivers. Many of them live in houses that are small and overcrowded. The present economic downturn has affected them, and some of them have been retrenched from their job and are looking for new jobs. We have been helping them, not only with prayer but also by bringing in used clothes and toys. I remember one Christmas when we brought in Christmas presents for families in the two churches there. One evangelist brought his son to thank me because he had received a pencil box - the very thing that he had been praying for, for Christmas!

On this very Sunday Rev Colin Wong and a team of 10 Lifers who are doctors, dentists and nurses are ministering to the brethren in Batam, not only to bring in used items, but also to conduct free medical and dental clinics for them called 'klinik kasih' (Love clinic). This is the 3rd time time we are doing this Mercy ministry for them and they are most appreciative, because many of them cannot afford the cost of medical and dental care in Batam. Our missionary in Batam, sister Roska and her coworkers have an ongoing mercy ministry to the sick, the needy and underprivileged. Recently she took care of a young 27-year-old mother who was growing thinner and weaker by the day. Roska brought her to a hospital in Nagoya and her condition improved after proper diagnosis was made and treatment was given.

Among the students who attend the two schools run by the churches, there are about 8 children who come from destitute or broken homes and they are studying for free. Their school textbooks and uniforms are provided from a scholarship fund. Besides that, whenever families need a place to stay, because of ethnic riots or eviction, the two churches become refuge centers for them. You know after living so long in Singapore, a trip to a place like Batam can be a real eye opener for many of us - to see believers who love the Lord like us, who are living in poverty. I would therefore welcome anyone to join me or Rev Colin Wong in our monthly trips to Batam. Now, Batam is not the only place where mercy ministry is needed.

I had the opportunity to visit Myanmar two years ago to visit the work of Rev Thawm Luai and Rev Andrew Kam. Rev Andrew Kam has about 20 children in his orphanage that are very well behaved and well taught in the Word of God. Next to the room where the service was held was another room which had one dining table and one large plank bed. This was where all the 20 orphans ate their meals and slept.

Of all the mission fields that Life Church is involved in, the one where poverty is worst is probably Cambodia. You have seen pictures printed in our church weekly of the slum children and the orphans under the care of Rev Jonathan Lee. The conditions in which they live, without proper sanitation, without clean water, and sufficient good food is one reason why they as well as our missionaries who minister to them, often fall sick.

Now, we can go on to describe many more places beside these, but we must not think that poverty is found only overseas. Poverty also exists right in our own country of Singapore. There are also needy people here. Some are old and have no one to care for them. Others are unemployed and unable to find work because of some physical or mental handicap that they have. It is true that there are homes for the aged, charitable organizations and welfare institutions that have been set up to meet their needs. But Christians should not be lacking in demonstrating concern and love for the needy.

And we thank God that Life church is not lacking in this, as shown in our involvement in Batam, and in the medical mission trips that are organized from time to time. And many who needed a place to stay temporarily have found a refuge here and in Beulah house.

Some people may ask if the church could have a great Mercy Ministy than this - for example to set up an orphanage, or another home for senior citizens, or local free clinic. And our answer to that would be two-fold:

First, our limited resources must be carefully managed. It must be channeled to fulfilling what God wants us to do as a church � and that is, to make disciples of all nations. That is our main focus. If we were to embark on any large-scale Mercy Ministry that causes us to lose this focus, we would find ourselves outside the will of God. It is a sad thing that many Christian organizations with strong evangelistic fervour that launched into welfare ministries, have compromised and lost their evangelistic emphasis altogether. One of these is the well-known YMCA - The Young Men's Christian Association. Let us be careful not to end up like that.

Secondly, there are already many existing Christian welfare ministries that are catering to the needs of the poor in our country. If Life Church is located in a country like Cambodia where the needs of the poor are great and there are no Christian welfare ministries to care for them, then there would be an obvious and urgent need for the church to set up one. But such is not the case here in Singapore. There are many existing Christian welfare ministries. Some of our sister churches and our own members are involved in them, ministering to the elderly, and to those who are intellectually disabled. So the need is not urgent.

The more urgent need for our church is to bring precious souls into God's Kingdom and so deliver them from eternal death. Physical provisions will benefit people only for this short present life, but spiritual provisions will benefit them both for this present life and the life to come. Therefore there is a greater need for us to invest in things that are eternal rather than things that are temporal.

Our message this morning however is not at all about what the church can do in Mercy Ministry, but what we as individual believers should do for the poor and needy who are around us. How should you and I respond when we come across people who are genuinely in need? How do we manifest Practical Christianity to them? This is the object of our study of James 2:1-16. To observe three things that characterise an effective personal ministry of mercy. 

I. It Is a Ministry With No Discrimination (vv.1-7) 

Let us turn our Bibles now to this passage. The chapter begins: 'My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?' One problem that exists everywhere, even among Christians is discrimination. There is a tendency to limit the showing of one's kindness, love and concern to those we like to be with. This passage in James reminds us that we should not practise discrimination against anyone, and especially against the poor.

James describes an interesting situation: A well-dressed, rich-looking person walks into a church and he is politely ushered to a nice, comfortable seat. And then a poor-looking man in shabby clothes walks in and he is abruptly told to stand or to sit on the floor! This kind of treatment of the poor was actually going on in the church and it is unacceptable. And James gives two good reasons why it is unacceptable: The first reason is that

A. Discrimination Makes Us Unjust Judges 

That is the meaning of the term 'judges of evil thoughts'. Any judge in a court of law who condemns or acquits people on the basis of their outward appearance or social position stands condemned for being unjust! And God is against all unjust judges. This is clearly stated in Deuteronomy 1:16,17 'And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; '. 

The second reason why we should never discriminate against the poor is that:

B. God (Himself) Does Not Discriminate Against Any Person 

In fact, in v.5 we are told that God has chosen the poor of this world rich, in faith and heirs of the promised kingdom. What this means is that, unlike men, God does not show special favour to the rich. If He had done so, then only the wealthiest people would respond to the Gospel and be saved. But the majority of those who comprised the early church were the poor (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

And although they were poor in wealth, they were rich in faith, and that kind of wealth (faith) is the wealth that counts most in God's sight. This however, does not mean that God favours the poor on earth more than the rich. Not all poor people are rich in faith. There are some who teach that the poor are much more blessed than the rich because Jesus said in Matthew 5:3 'Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' This verse is not at all about material poverty but spiritual poverty. Jesus was teaching that those who recognize their spiritual poverty are truly blessed because it is this humble attitude that makes them receptive to God's working in them.

Whether we are rich or poor materially, what really matters is that all of us must be poor in spirit, and rich in faith. And when we see things that way, the way that God sees them, then we should not discriminate any more between rich and poor brethren in church. Both should be treated equally well. Thus we have seen that the first characteristic of a mercy ministry is that it does not practise discrimination against anyone. Let us look now at the second characteristic:

II. It is a Ministry of Love for People (vv.8-13) 

This is stated in vv.8,9 'If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.' It is interesting to note that the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves is called the 'royal law'. That shows how important it is. And the word 'neighbour' in this royal law is not restricted to any class of people. We know this because when Jesus was asked the question, 'Who is my neighbour?' He replied by relating the parable of the Good Samaritan. He related how no one else except the Samaritan was willing to help the Jew who was injured. Therefore anyone who needs my help is my neighbour, regardless of his background. This truth will be elaborated over the next few Sundays when Rev Colin Wong speaks on this parable.

Dearly beloved, we are to understand that we commanded by God to love all men without exception: rich and poor alike. If we do not love, we are breaking God's royal law. And James says in v.10 that to break this law is just as serious a matter as breaking all the other laws God has given - like the law against murder and the law against committing adultery.

This heightens the commandment to love all without discrimination, and not to exclude the poor from our love. We must observe this commandment as carefully as we observe the rest of the commandments. In order to keep this commandment, we must change the way we regard people. We should no longer evaluate people around us according to their status, abilities, or outward appearance. But regard every single person, whether rich or poor, old or young, weak or strong, as someone who deserves to be loved and cared for. Never regard anyone as not deserving your time and attention. Our heavenly Father Himself does not neglect even the smallest sparrow (Matthew 10:29 'Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.').

The Bible shows us that great things can arise out of seemingly insignificant origins. Joseph is one example. He was a young boy hated by all his older brothers. They sold him as a slave into Egypt. And yet he became the prime minister of Egypt and the one God used to preserve his whole family from dying in a time of famine. King David is another example. He was only a lowly shepherd boy, and yet the Lord chose him to be king, and He became the greatest king of Israel. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was from a very humble background. His parents were poor. We know that because when Christ was born, the sacrifice that they brought with them 8 days later when they dedicated Him at the Temple was a pair of turtledoves. This was the provision made for the poor. Those who were not poor were required to bring a lamb.

So let us regard everyone as being worth our time and efforts. When we cultivate this view of people around us, it will become much easier to love them and so to keep the royal law. Now, that we have seen that a Mercy Ministry is a ministry of love that shows no discrimination, there is another thing that characterizes a true Mercy Ministry:

III. It is a Ministry of Practical Care and Concern (vv.14-16) 

Let us look at vv.14-16 'What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?'

Here we have a situation that may happen to anyone of us: A brother or sister in Christ lacks food shelter and clothing and comes to us for help. And although we have the means to help him, we do nothing for him except to say some words of comfort: 'Go in peace, may you be warmed and have food to eat.' If this happens, then, according to God's Word, our faith in the Lord is an unproductive faith, a faith that is dead and not good for anything. Another passage of scripture that echoes this truth is 1 John 3:17 'But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?'

Dearly beloved, do you have a productive faith or a dead faith? Does the love of God dwell in you? Practical Christianity means that you should be willing to help those that you are able to help. The Lord has blessed us with material blessings, and if someone is in need, we should share these blessings with others to relieve them of their difficult circumstances.

Now, there are many excuses that people may give, for withholding practical help from others. Some may say, 'If I give to him, I am encouraging him to be lazy and to depend on others.' Or 'If I start to give to him, he will take advantage of me.' In order to deal with these excuses, let us look at what God says in the scriptures: Matthew 5:42 'Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.' The Lord says that we should not refuse those who are genuinely in need. Hebrews 13:16 'But to do good and to communicate [i.e. to share what you have] forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.' The things we do for others are like the animal sacrifices that God's people offered to Him at the Temple. They do not help us to gain merit and earn our way to heaven, but the Lord is pleased with them. 

Acts 20:35 'I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.' Let us never forget this important principle 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' Let us therefore learn to give what we can to help those who need our care and concern. This morning we have seen that a Mercy Ministry is a ministry of love that does not discriminate against anyone, a ministry of rendering practical care and concern to those who are in need.

Dearly beloved, let us remember that we ourselves in great need of mercy, wretched sinners before Christ saved us. And yet Christ did not despise us, but instead He loved us with a wonderful unconditional love. And because He loved us, He was willing to give Himself for us to bring us out of our miserable state: Let us turn our Bibles to 2 Corinthians 8:9 tells us: 'For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.' If Christ has done all that for you, will you do the same for others?

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25