Scripture Union taught me the discipline of daily Bible reading..."John Stott,
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
Sometimes Christians mistakenly contrast the writings of James and Paul. James, they think, is concerned with works, Paul with faith; James is concerned with behavior, Paul with doctrine. It’s entirely wrong: a well- rounded description of faith and life is found in the writings of both men. There are several statements in today’s passage which would have been worthy of James. They must “put their religion into practice by caring for their own family” (4); “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives … has denied the faith” (8); “help those widows who are really in need” (16; cf. Jas. 1:27, 2:15-17).
The passage shows how we should treat one another within the Christian community. Paul is writing for a specific cultural context (without the benefit of today’s welfare programs and social provision), but the principles are clear enough for all cultures and generations. Relationships matter, and should be marked by respect, purity, mutual support and compassionate care. Care for family members is a duty, failure in which is regarded as very serious (8).
In many parts of the world, the extended family is entirely normal, with elderly relatives cared for as a matter of family honor. In the Western world this is less common, and it is surely an emphasis which churches and Christian families must recover. Many Western societies have an aging population, with a growing proportion of people (young and old) living on their own. Not all of us have the ability or means to care for family members within our home, but we can all seek out the lonely and housebound, to draw them into community, to provide friendship, meals, finances and other help. And where an individual is unable to help, the church must do so (16). Is this not an essential outworking of sound doctrine?
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