LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT PROGRAMME
Institute for Research & Social Analysis – Suva, March 2015
Reflection for Morning Devotions, Wednesday 18 March by Dr Richard Davis, PTC Faculty
Reading: James 2:1-9
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
(text taken from Take our moments and our days : an Anabaptist prayer book : Advent through Pentecost (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 2010), 436-7).
In my reflection this morning I wish to reflect on our passage from James.
The book of James has had controversial past. Among some Protestants is it not favoured because it seems to advocate for salvation by works and not solely justification through faith alone.
But this emphasis on works and correct Christian action may also let it speak to the situation of those Christians who are impelled to act through the urging of the Holy Spirit or those who are paid to act on behalf of their church or organization as leaders and stewards.
In our passage today we are reminded that God plays no favourites among people. All of us are created in the image of God and all are equally distant and close to God. Human partiality toward the rich and powerful, toward leaders even, is no part of the Kingdom of God. Humans are not to put themselves in the position of judging others based on worldly criteria such as wealth, celebrity status or other worldly position.
Yet we continue to do this.
Some might say that this is our culture. Exactly. It is culture that James was criticising. His culture, like ours, at its worst, favours the rich over the poor. Even though the rich can oppress the poor and drag them into court to ensure they stay rich at the cost of the poor, we still give them preference. Even though they buy politicians and lawyers and spin doctors to get their way, we still give them preference.
In some cultures, people can be tempted to think that the rich are somehow closer to God and wisdom. Having money is associated with virtue and somehow by virtue of having money we listen to their supposed wisdom on matters of living and even faith.
Yet James in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, says ‘No’. God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom. But even though God has uplifted the poor Christians still keep them down.
As Christian leaders and managers, I know that we do our best. But we all need the constant correction of scripture in order to inoculate us against the twisted values of the world.
Yet how many times do we see in organizations that the rich get preferential treatment? And how often do we see the poor treated with contempt? Have you ever seen this? Have you ever suffered from this kind of treatment?
The churches and its organizations can easily condemn with words the preferential treatment given to the rich in a capitalist where money is the measure of all things.
But how much better it is to act in a better way where we treat all people are equals in the eyes of God. We should not attempt to embarrass the rich by dragging them down, but rather elevate the poor to their kingdom status.
James summarises the way we should treat people. Very simply, and in the words of Christ he says “you shall Love your neighbour as yourself.” Simple words, perhaps, but how difficult they are to act out every day in every situations.
I remember when I working for the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand I had a manager who was keen to attend marketing and management lunches and events to hear guest speakers on various topics related to our work in communications.
One of those events I attended stood out for me. It was a breakfast meeting. The room was full of young upcoming managers from a range of corporations. They were there, it seemed to me, to gain wisdom about the latest management thinking in order to give them an edge.
The guest speaker was the general manager of a successful wine company. A leading brand they are well known around the world as producing reliable good wine at a reasonable price.
What was his message to this audience?
I was surprised. Instead of some complicated management fad, he had one simple rule he wanted to share with us. He claimed that his simple management rule applied in every situation, with everyone, and was the secret to his management success.
We have already heard this management insight this morning.
It is this: “You shall love you neighbour as yourself.” Although for him was rendered something like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Sometimes called the Golden Rule this was his simple and timeless management and leadership tip.
He used this tip with staff, customers, and suppliers, and he said it never failed him.
The room of young executives clearly expected something else. Surely management and leadership of a major company requires sophisticated techniques using psychological insights, sociological analyses, accounting techniques, and marketing acumen. Those things can be used, sure, but they can also be misused if we do not have ethos of care for people in place.
But his message – a wonderful secular sermon, was that an ethic of care, which recognised that the people are an organizations most important asset guides the success of a major company.
The young executives could be seen shuffling in the seats a little uncomfortably. Many of them had come expecting to learn something they did not already know. But everyone has heard of this rule of life and faith. The difficult part is to believe in it and to put it into place.
The rule of love has been ridiculed as being for our private lives alone. For political and economic realists, who preach the gospel of realism, repeatedly saying that love is all very well between individuals and families and in our private lives. But when we get to the real business of managing companies and countries and dealing with the forces of sin in a violent world, love must be set aside and other pragmatic values must take precedence.
But before we reject love we must try it. But we must also not forget about the sinful nature of men and women. We should not be naive that love can prevent harmful things from happening. After the most loving human of all, Jesus Christ, was hung on a cross to die. But the love of God conquered the power of death for our sakes.
We must place our faith in love and its power to world wonder in the lives of our families, villages, churches, city and nation.