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James 2:1-13: Show No Favoritism Print E-mail
James
Sunday, 29 March 2009

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We all have our favorites. Favorite teams, favorite foods, favorite hobbies, favorite ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, and the list goes on. My wife and I often joke about my tendency to pick my favorites. Whether you are talking about gum (Trident original), guitars (Martin), or college sports-teams (Vols), I have my favorites and I normally contend that they are the best with vigor. As people, as humans, we all have our favorites.

Unfortunately the idea of having favorites spills over into our relationships with one another. Not only do we favor certain restaurants or certain websites, we often favor certain types of people. We may favor those who are close to our own age or going through similar situations in life. We may favor those who have a good sense of humor or those who think that we have a good sense of humor. We may favor the educated or we may favor the opposite. However it works out in our own minds, we often have a tendency to favor certain people.

In our passage this morning, James is addressing the issue of favoritism. Apparently the original recipients of this letter struggled with favoritism like us. The dividing line for them, which is often still a dividing line for us, was between the rich and the poor. They favored the rich at the expense of the poor. James writes to correct this error. Look at verse 1. Here is the imperative of the passage: show no partiality. James tells us that as believers in Jesus Christ we are not to favor certain people over others. Our faith in the One who came to save men from all walks of life, with all types of personalities and social status, should lead us away from favoritism. In order for us to further understand what he is talking about, James gives us a particular situation in verses 2-4. Look at those with me. The scenario is simple. At a particular gathering of the believers, a rich man enters wearing nice clothes and poor man enters wearing shabby ones. The rich man is given a seat of honor and the poor man is told to stand or sit on the ground. It is interesting to note the subtlety of the action. Notice that the poor man is not refused entrance to the meeting. No, he is welcome to come in, he just needs to know his place. James calls this what it is and says that by doing so they have become judges with evil thoughts. Thus, he commands them (and us) to avoid the sin of partiality in all its forms and particularly as we meet together as believers.

In the remaining verses of our passage, James goes on to give us some reasons why we should avoid favoritism. We have already noted that one reason we should avoid it is because our faith in Christ Jesus. I want us to consider four others that he mentions.

First, favoritism ignores the plan of God (v. 5).

Building on the idea that our faith in Christ should keep us from favoritism, James speaks of Godís salvation of the poor. Look at verse 5. The people that James was writing to were neglecting the very ones that God had chosen to be rich in faith and heirs to the kingdom. Godís choosing was not based upon social status or wealth. He did not select those that would help Him have a better bottom line (as if it could be improved). No, He chose to give the kingdom to the poor and to make them rich in faith. Notice what is truly valuable in the Kingdom God. It is not worldly riches or fame or status, but faith. In one sense, money means very little to the Kingdom. So, if God values faith and loving Him over money, then why would we be partial to the wealthy? There is no place for favoritism in the body of Christ, for we are all one in Him. One of my commentators notes: ďWhoever we are by the worldís standards, we are orphaned by sin and adopted into Godís family by grace. In Godís sight we are one, therefore the Church should treat everyone the same way. When we play favorites, we deny the gospel.Ē Brothers and sisters, in light of Godís plan and who we are in Christ, may we avoid favoritism.

Second, favoritism honors the dishonorable (and dishonors the honorable) (v. 6-7).

Instead of honoring those that God honors, such favoritism dishonors the poor. Look at verse 6a. Yet, not only are the poor dishonored, but honor is given to those who are often not worthy of it. Look at verses 6b-7. The rich are the ones who were oppressing them. The rich are the ones who were dragging them into court. The rich are the ones who were slandering their good name. Yet, they want to honor the rich by treating them better than the poor. Do you see the foolishness of this sin? Our longing for whatever it is that we stand to gain by honoring the rich blinds us to the truth. James is calling for his readers to wake up to this fact and to avoid such foolish favoritism.

Third, favoritism transgresses the law (v. 8-11).

After the theological reason and the more practical reason, James now appeals to the commands of other Scriptures. He focuses on the command to love our neighbor. Look at verses 8-9. James tells us that favoritism is disobedience to the command to love our neighbor. Jesus taught that love for the Lord and love for our neighbor are the two greatest commandments (see Matthew 22:34-40). James argues that by treating the rich person better than the poor person we are not loving our neighbor and are convicted by the law as transgressors. These are strong words. Favoritism is disobedience to the greatest commandment and leads to us being transgressors of the law. James explains this conclusion in verses 10-11. Look at those with me. If a person breaks one commandment, then they are accountable to all of the law. We cannot pick and choose the commandments we want to obey and those we want to ignore. To break one is to become a transgressor. Why is this the case? Because the law is unified by the law Giver. The commandments are the Lords and if we choose to break even one of theme then we choose to rebel against His lordship. In this sense, all sins are equal.

We need to see some of the implications of Jamesí argument. First, the idea that some sins are more acceptable than others is false. Granted some may have more difficult consequences than others, but all mean that we are in rebellion against God. Second, thinking that we can disregard a particular command because we keep most of the commands is false. God calls us to obey all of His commands. We are given no outs. We cannot act like Godís Word is a buffet where we can choose what we like and ignore what we donít. Someone once told me a story of pastor being confronted about the lack of lovingly practicing church discipline in his Church. He responded: ďIím not very good at that one.Ē His response fails to understand what James is saying here. We cannot be Ďgoodí in one area and use that as an excuse to not be Ďgoodí in another area. No, we must not pick and choose.

Of course these implications bring up an important question: is James telling us that we have to perfectly obey all of the Old Testament law to be a Christian? My simple answer: no. Let me explain. First, James describes the law as the royal law. His description is similar to calling it the kingly law, or the law given by the King and for the Kingdom (which he mentioned in verse 5). Thus, as we have already seen at 1:25, it seems that James is referring to the law as understood, interpreted, fulfilled, and taught by Christ. We are to follow and obey the law of Christ (to borrow a phrase from Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:21). Likewise, James knows that we will not be perfect. He knows that we are saved by grace through faith (see 4:6-10). He knows that Godís mercy must triumph in our lives. Yet, the grace and mercy of God is not meant to lead us to more sin and lax living. It is meant to lead us to repentance and obedience. It is meant to lead us to be doers of the Word. It is meant to equip us to faithfully love our neighbor. Thus, since favoritism is a transgression of the royal law, we are to avoid it as followers of the King.

Fourth, favoritism leads to judgment without mercy (v. 12-13).

James gives us a stern warning in verses 12-13. Look at those with me. Again, the imperative is to speak and act in obedience to Godís command to love our neighbor. We are to avoid judging people by having favorites. We will be judged under the law of liberty, or again, the law of Christ. Judgment is coming and we need to live as those who know that and know the commands of the Judge. If we do not, if we ignore the command to avoid favoritism, if we continue to judge others unjustly, if we continue to show no mercy, then we can only expect the judgment we receive to come without mercy. This may sound shocking to us, but it should not if we are familiar with the teachings of Christ.

The parable we read to begin our service makes it clear that if we do not show mercy to others then we cannot expect to be shown mercy ourselves. Those who show mercy evidence that they understand the mercy that they have received from God. Those who donít evidence that they do not understand the mercy of Christ and are not His true disciple. James is teaching us over and over again that true faith will impact the way that we live. If our faith does not change us, then it is not true, saving faith. We will see this even more next week. As for these verses, James makes it clear that favoritism lacks mercy and if left unchecked and unrepented of, will lead to judgment without mercy. Thus, we must avoid it.

James gives us the imperative to avoid favoritism in verse 1 and gives us a number of reasons why we should obey in the rest of our passage. He teaches us that favoritism ignores the plan of God, honors the dishonorable, transgresses the law, and leads to judgment without mercy. That final warning is sobering, but it is not the last word. James follows his warning with these words of hope: Mercy triumphs over judgment. In one sense, these words could be referring to the fact that when we show mercy to others, we triumph over judgment. Yet, it seems likely that James is including the idea of Godís mercy triumphing over judgment.

At the end of the day, we have no real hope of avoiding favoritism and avoiding judgment without mercy if left to ourselves. Yet, praise be to God that He has not left us to ourselves. He has sent His only Son to die on a cross in our place and to be raised from the dead so that His mercy could triumph in our lives. It is the mercy that we have received in Christ that strengthens us and enables us to show mercy to others. It is His mercy that has saved us all: rich, poor, black, white, young, old, whatever. Thus, it is His mercy that has not only triumphed over the judgment to come, but it is His mercy that will enable us to be victorious over the temptation to judge unjustly. Praise the Lord for His amazing mercy and grace that has triumphed in our lives. May it triumph even more. Amen.

 ~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 06 April 2009 )

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