James 2:1 – My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
The book of James is SUCH a jam-packed book with nuggets of information that can be used and implemented in our lives that it would be terrible to just gloss over this book.
Last week we learned that James, in Chapter 1, spoke to Jewish Christians about both trials & temptation and hearing & doing. In chapter 2, James speaks about the sin of favoritism and faith & works.
Immediately in this chapter, James starts with a story. He talks about a man who is rich and a man who is poor. Both of them walk into a synagogue. The fact that James uses the term “synagogue” means that he is speaking at a time before Gentiles were widely accepted into Christianity. But this isn’t as much a story about Jewish Christians as it is favoritism. James tells us that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ was not meant to be given with discrimination. It is meant for all.
The example James uses is that we will bend over backwards for the rich man while telling the poor man that he isn’t worth as much as the rich man.
James 2:3-4 – If you look with favor on the man wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or, “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
How often do we see that in our own churches today?
Do we typically see the richer people sitting down front in view of the cameras? Watch any of the televangelists and tell me what you see in the front few rows. Could it be favoritism being shown to bolster the bank account?
And that is the danger. I was looking in my own church last Sunday and noticed both rich and poor, young and old, Christian and seeker alike sitting in the first few rows. It was amazing to see! There was no partiality.
But what happens when we show partiality? It brings to light something that was said in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks to the heart.” if we are called to be holy, we must be set apart from the world and transformed in our minds to look at others as Christ looked at everyone. We need to look to their hearts.
James goes on to explain that it is the rich who oppress. It is the rich who seek to drag people into court. It is the rich who speak against the name of Christ.
But God chose the poor to be filled with faith and become heirs to the kingdom.
James 2:5 – Listen, my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?
If we are to truly live a Scriptural life, then we will love our neighbors as ourselves. James quotes Jesus from Matthew 22:36-40. And Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18. This is a great example of the entire Bible being utilized to show us a timeless truth. The truth of loving our neighbor. And James is very clear, everyone is our neighbor, regardless of status, upbringing, religion, sexual preference, or anything else that seems to divide us these days.
Ending this section of the chapter, James explains that one sin keeps us away, meaning that are you able to show favoritism to anyone when you sin just as everyone else? No. And favoritism is a sin. He says one thing here that I absolutely love, “mercy triumphs over judgment.” James is calling the reader back to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Matthew 7:2)
I will, by no means, tell people we are not to rebuke or judge. The Bible is clear, we are to test the spirits and make sure they are from God. But we have got to be very careful that we do not judge someone based on personal preference. We must use our wisdom to bring a Biblical standard to them. And even when we do that, we need to remember that it is not against flesh and blood that we war but the powers and authorities of this dark world. Going in to a confrontation with someone without praying about it first or taking it to God will get you nothing but an argument. We should constantly be asking God if He desires us to speak to the offending person and for Him to soften the heart of them.
James closes out his chapter with a discussion on faith and works. Many Christians get confused on the place of faith and works in Christianity. Without works, our faith is dead. Without faith, we are dead.
James 2:14 – What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him?
Let me make this clear. Works do NOT save us. Only faith in Christ can do that. But once we show that faith in Christ, He prepares us for works that will show people the faith that we have. If we do not have works, then we won’t be showing fruit.
James seems to believe that if you say you have faith but don’t have works, then you don’t truly have a saving faith. Keep in mind James’ audience. He is speaking to Jewish Christians. These Christians came from a background of strict adherence to laws each and every day. When they learned about salvation through faith alone, they took it to the opposite extreme of not living out their faith. They simply claimed faith, but did nothing to grow in it.
There is a saying that has made its way around Christianity for a while, “faith alone saves, but that faith that saves is not alone.”
James then goes on to explain what dead faith looks like. It looks like the homeless person on the street that we walk by and say, “let me pray for you.” It looks like the elderly person who lost their spouse and lives alone and no one from the church (and I am not talking the paid professionals of the church, I am talking about those who sit in the pews) goes to visit them. It looks like the parishioner who sees their pastor going through a tough time and doing nothing to assist.
Faith alone saves us, but it must be a living faith. We can tell if faith is living or dead as to whether it has works or not associated with it. A living faith is real. It is a faith in which people will look at us and see Jesus. It is a faith that will take care of those who need it.
James 2:18 – But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.”[e] Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works.
James says there are people who will try to say they have the “gift” of works or “gift” of faith. But faith and works are not gifts, they are products of a Christian life. If we have faith, we must have works accompany it.
He gives an example of living faith in Abraham. Abraham listened to God and was made righteous because of it. Faith and works cooperated in Abraham. If he didn’t have a living faith in God, he never could have been obedient to follow Him.
James then explains Rahab, the prostitute, had a living faith. Rahab was a Gentile woman. So here, James is laying the groundwork for the Jewish Christians to accept the Gentile Christians in the future. Her faith was shown as living because it was a faith of action.
Abraham and Rahab are used and both have very different purposes for showing a living faith. As for Abraham, if we have faith in God, we will do what He tells us. For Rahab, if we have faith in God, we will help His people.
At the end of the chapter, James it is important to realize that faith that is dead is still faith, just not a faith that is living, nor does it have the ability to save.
James 2:26 – For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Next week we will dig into James 3, where we are told we need to control our tongue.