This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on September 29, 2012. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – James 2A.
James 2:1-13 – “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man indirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing thefine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen,my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name ]by which you have been called?
8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in onepoint, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
So far we have been looking at how James has been counseling these dispersed Christians about how to live among their neighbors. Now James turns to the topic of favoritism. The word, “ assembly“ in James 2:2, can mean a church gathering, but also may refer to a meal with guests. James‘ concern is that these believers would not treat their neighbors with favoritism – whether they are fellow believers or otherwise.
Do Not Show Favoritism.
Context of the Passage: These Jewish believers, to whom James is writing, lived in a culture that was about wealth. The rich expected to be honored. The poor did not expect to be treated with any recognition – and in fact, honoring the poor might be considered inappropriate.
James is asking something radical here. He is breaking with the culture to show that Christianity and the Christian God have a unique kind of love and faithfulness. James is asking these believers to risk offending the rich and powerful in order to reject favoritism and to show a picture of what God is like.
Confrontation: We Show Favoritism: Our own favoritism is different from what ancient people did. We show favoritism based on likes and dislikes, popularity, beauty, ethnicity and race.
There was, still is, a ministry that my parents and family were involved in when I was a child, called Young Life. The stated strategy, years ago, was to find and recruit the most attractive and popular kids, particularly successful athletes, as a way of drawing others in. Young Life lured these kids with personable, attractive leaders and multi-million dollar camps, so that they could preach the Gospel to them. Kids came for fun, to be around popular attractive people. Young Life built an extremely successful para-church ministry on a stated strategy of favoritism. What’s wrong with that?
As these kids moved on from High school, the tendency was many of those who had not be Christians before Young Life – who had experienced conversions through Young Life, left the faith. Why? Because Young Life created an experience like a nicer version of high school – like the world. The Gospel never changed most of these kids – it was enough to be attractive and popular.
Favoritism, at its heart, is a love for what the world finds attractive and desirable. As the church, we can be in danger of giving the subtle message that we are just one more group that loves the attractive and ignores the poor, the outcast, the quiet, the awkward. This darkens the light of the church to the world
Favoritism is so natural to us that it is difficult to see. This is why James is making such a fuss about favoritism in the church – it’s like a silent killer to the Gospel. We don’t actively turn away the unlovely – we ignore them until they realize that they are irrelevant to the church and decide to leave. James wants these believers -and us – to see that this issue is at the heart of the Gospel. We tend to think of an issue like favoritism as, “no big deal”, a side issue. But James calls it a violation of the Royal Law – to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself”. Favoritism is Lawbreaking. James compares our attempts to brush aside the issue of favoritism with a murderer who tries to say he is innocent because he didn’t break some other law. Our favoritism has broken the heart of God’s law. Favoritism violates the love that is meant to characterize the church and which is central to God’s desire. And while we cannot force our feelings – James is not talking, here, about feelings, but about our actions, words and attitudes.
God Does Not Show Favoritism.
God Does Not Prefer One Over Another: God does not treat one person with more love and faithfulness, does not speak better to one than to another. The Gospel is offered to everyone, despite race, socioeconomic status, background, past, situation, etc. God’s favor and forgiveness in Christ is freely offered to all people. God does not target the attractive, the rich, the popular – but the poor and needy.
We do not believe this. We believe that God does play favorites. We believe that God rewards one and abandons another. We judge God based on what we see and what little we understand. What we do not see or understand is what God is doing in another person’s life (or even in our own life most of the time).
We do not see that God tailors his love and faithfulness to every life in order to bring every person to a greater trust, faith and obedience. We only tend to judge based on how we feel about our experiences and by how others appear to be doing. But God personally involves himself with every person to redeem each life that is submitted to him.
God Loves Us as He Loves Himself: The royal Law, mentioned in James 2:8, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, (see also Mark 12:31, Lev. 19:18), is an expression of the character of the Law Giver. Jesus uses this, along with the command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” to say that this encapsulates everything that God commands and wants. This is what God is like.
So what does it means to say that God loves us as he loves himself? It means this – that the great end towards which salvation and history move, is that we will live forever in the presence of God. The scriptures describe this as the Great Wedding Feast and the Marriage between Christ and his church. Salvation is not merely about not going to hell – it is about the God who made us for himself to delight in fellowship with us – and us with him. And we will never be made complete – who we were made to be – until we see him face to face and live in his presence. What God desires for himself he also desires for us – to live joyfully and eternally in a fellowship that completes us. God has chosen to bind himself eternally with human beings. And God does not wish for any to be lost.
Repent, Show Mercy, Receive Mercy.
Live Like People Who Have Been Shown Mercy: “12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.” As we saw before in chapter one, the Law of liberty is no longer a law that brings condemnation, but that teaches us how to live free from the things that corrupt our lives. We have been set free from the condemnation of the Law – shown mercy without favoritism. We are favored by God, even though we are still sinners who continue to be weak and willful.
The grace and favor of God must be what is at the foundation of our fellowship – not personal preference – likes or dislikes – attractiveness, ethnicity, wealth – but acceptance and favor for all who believe. We must be willing to treat the difficult, the unlovely, the believer and the unbeliever, those who differ in their opinions from us – with the same respect, compassion and faithfulness that we show to the attractive, the easy-going, the popular, the talented the rich, those we like.
Warning: Judgment Without Mercy Will Be Shown to Those Who Show No Mercy: Like all things in scripture, this is not a One and Done Warning. James is addressing this issue to people who have shown favoritism and he is calling them to repentance.
Those who have regard only for the rich, the attractive, those who are like themselves, the impressive, those with social standing – and who disregard and exclude the poor, the outcast, the unlovely – treating them with contempt – will reap what they sow. If my regard for people has nothing to do with the Gospel – if I merely treat people according to my personal preference – then I show a disregard for the grace of God that has been shown to me. We were outcasts. We, in our sin, were unlovely. We were spiritually poor. We had nothing to recommend us to God. But Christ, who was rich, became poor – became an outcast – faced rejection for us. Therefore, if we do not show grace and acceptance to others who are different, or poor or unlovely – we are turning our backs on the very same grace that was shown to us and we will be judged without mercy. This is one of the sternest warnings in scripture.
Mercy Will Triumph Over Judgment: Those who receive the mercy of God through Christ Jesus, and who show mercy without favoritism, will triumph on the great day of judgment. God will be generous with his mercy towards those who have shown mercy.