WHAT’S IN A NAME?
PROVERBS 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
A name is only composed of letters that make a sound. It is the person that bears those letters who is important. No matter how many other people in the world carry your name, each is different and you are the only you. I want my name to stand for God.
Solomon wrote in Proverbs 22 some of the characteristics that I want people to see in me when they call my name.
I. I Want My Name to Carry Honor (vv. 1-2)
How can we gain respect and honor for our names? It comes through high ethical and moral conduct—label it integrity. We adhere to a high standard of justice and responsibility that is derived from our connection to God.
The word honor for a Greek living during Christ’s lifetime meant “weighty” or “heavy.” Gold, for example, was the best example of something of honor because it was both heavy and valuable. When we give honor to certain people, we’re saying that they carry great weight with us.
People will honor us because we are faithful to our spouse, ethical in our conduct at work and church, and have a godly standard. We are an asset to God.
II. I Want My Name to Be Synonymous with Generosity (vv. 8-9)
An African boy listened carefully as his teacher explained to the class why Christians give presents to each other on Christmas Day. The teacher said, “The gift is an expression of joy over the birth of Jesus and friendship for one another.”
When Christmas Day arrived, the young boy waited around after class to see his teacher. When everyone had left he handed her a sea shell of exquisite beauty. The beauty startled the teacher and she inquired where he had found such an unusual shell. He told her that there was only one spot where these particular shells were to be found—a certain bay several miles away.
“Why it’s gorgeous, but you should not have walked all that way to get a gift for me,” the teacher told him.
His dark eyes sparkled as he answered, “Long walk part of gift.”
Generosity often means sacrificial giving that comes from deep inside the heart.
III. I Want My Name to Be Synonymous with Compassion (vv. 22-23)
The world lacks compassion. Sometimes it seems as if all we do is shove to get to the head of the line, like junior high students at lunch time. Let somebody else be the last. Who cares? The Greek word for sympathy signifies that we are “to feel or suffer with.” We align ourselves with the hurting of the world.
Generosity is the response to people’s need whereas compassion is the reason. Compassion comes because God’s Son is with us. With Jesus eyes we see the hurt, bleeding, dying world with new appreciation. We see the external and internal needs of humanity. (Derl G. Keefer)
JAMES 2:1-10, 14-17
I have two plants in my office. One is alive and the other is artificial. The artificial one is a very low maintenance plant with only occasional dusting required. It never blooms and never gives any signs of life, even though it is green. The living one shows all the signs of life. It needs water and sometimes the leaves bloom. Other times some leaves turn brown and must be trimmed. A cursory glance at the plants will not reveal which one is living and which one is plastic. A closer and more thorough examination does reveal which plant is the living one.
Some people in the church resemble the two plants in my office. While some are genuine and alive, others only give the appearance of spiritual life but in reality are fake. How can I know whether I have a living faith or a false faith? The second chapter of the book of James helps to give us some answers to that question.
I. Living Faith Is Impartial (vv. 1-10)
Discrimination is evidence of partiality. James is quite clear that we should not hold our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as a sign of personal favoritism. Nor should we be partial to anyone. As we read this passage in James chapter 2, we must be struck with how similar our day is to James’s day. We tend to cater to those who are wealthy or are dressed well or look good. In so doing we are showing partiality.
How do you and I respond to the person who doesn’t dress as well or smell as nice as others? A living faith is one that welcomes equally the poor and rich, the black and white and brown, the educated and uneducated, the well-dressed and the poorly dressed. While we might downplay this type of sin, James is quick to say that whoever breaks the law at one point is guilty of breaking the whole law. Discrimination is sin and we need to call it such, no more or less loudly than we speak of every sin.
Living faith, on the other hand, is not concerned with skin color or bank accounts or anything except the individual person. May God grant us a faith that shows no partiality!
II. Living Faith Produces Good Works (vv. 14-17)
While I was in high school and college one of my sisters lived in Florida. Every spring break I made a visit to see her. Driving through the orange groves I began to stop and enjoy the sights, smells, and tastes. Those trees naturally produced oranges because that is what they were—orange trees. The oranges grew from the inside of the tree out.
In the same way, Christians ought to produce good works because on the inside God has changed us. To use another biblical analogy, we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. We are not the same anymore, and because we have been changed from the inside out we naturally produce good works. It is as natural for a Christian to produce good works as it is for the orange tree to produce oranges.
Good works for the Christian, as do oranges, come in all shapes and sizes. Developing Christian character, ministering to the needs of others, and sharing the Word of God are all examples of good works. Time would not permit an exhaustive list of good works that the believer could perform. The key is that a living faith produces good works.
Living faith is the result of the work of God in bringing a person to salvation. Impartiality and good works are the results of a living faith. Just as the true nature of the two plants in my office will be eventually revealed, so will a living faith and a false faith be made plain. A living faith produces good things that bring praise and glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (Douglas Walker)
BEYOND THE BORDERS
In the preceding verses Jesus declared all foods are clean (v. 19), because it is what is in the inner person that counts. In these stories, Jesus declares all persons clean, whether a Syrophoenician woman in Tyre, or a man of unknown but non-Jewish race in the region of the Decapolis. These two stories recorded by Mark are also documented in Matthew (15:21ff.).
We should not get bogged down in the details of the story, but rather see the broad sweep of the theological brush. We have here two examples of the same religious principle illustrating Jesus repudiation of the traditional Jewish beliefs that the true faith is only for those of the house of Israel.
While as a matter of strategy Jesus started with Israel, as a matter of practicality he expanded beyond those borders. These two stories make this point clear. The Christlike God is a God for all people, who seeks all people everywhere, who calls on them for faith in him and is desirous for the commitment of all, so that all might be saved. As Paul wrote counseling Timothy: “This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4).
To the best of our knowledge this is the first and only journey of Jesus beyond the borders of Israel, and the fact that he traveled here is symbolically significant. His actions speak volumes of words.
Jesus often stated that it was his intention to go first to the house of Israel, to those of the Jewish faith. He never claimed to be starting a new religion. He was brought up a Jew and knew well his Jewish Bible (Old Testament), often quoting it, even on the cross (see Mark 15:34; Ps. 22:1) . He claimed that he had come not to destroy Judaism, but to fulfill it. To fill it full of new meaning. To bring it to its proper climax. To fulfill the words of the Jewish prophets. This was his intention.
While he still desired this, he had what spaceflight engineers would call today a “midcourse correction.” He drew his circle larger to include the Gentiles—all non-Jews—and this is nowhere more evident than this passage where a desperate Gentile mother pleads with him to come and heal her daughter, who was possessed with “an unclean spirit.”
He states first his original intention to go to the Jews: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (v. 27). The Jews often referred to Gentiles as “dogs.” Jesus uses here the common vernacular, as he often did in order to be understood by the common people. The woman’s clever repartee drew him out so that he healed a foreigner in a foreign country, an astounding theological event for one who claimed to come to fulfill Judaism.
The second episode, where a person who cannot hear or speak is healed, is recorded more for the comments attributed to the crowd than for the actual healing. The healing was not a new lesson, other than it was again done to a Gentile beyond the border of Israel.
The most astounding thing was that the people were now saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak” (v. 37). These were carefully crafted words that were used to echo the prophet Isaiah who, when he spoke of the coming Messiah, said, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy” (Isa. 35:5-6a). The use of these words verified in the minds of those using them that Jesus was in fact the Christ spoken of by their prophet Isaiah.
When General Douglas MacArthur was forced to leave the Philippines because of the advancing Japanese army during the Second World War, he told them, “I shall return.” When he returned near the end of the war, he chose very carefully his words when he landed and said, “I have returned.” It was a fulfillment of his earlier promise. Jesus is claiming to be the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah by going beyond the border to non-Jews. (C. Thomas Hilton)