Study Notes

James 2:1-13


In our verse-by-verse study of the Scriptures, it is important to keep track of where we've been in order to understand where we are. James has been writing to Christians, discussing how important it is to practice what is preached; to be not just hearers of the Word, but also doers of it. He said that a true relationship with God is demonstrated by keeping a bridle on your tongue, showing love towards those in need, and keeping yourself unstained by the world.

Now, the world stains us not only with outright sinful temptations, as James pointed out earlier, but also by its attitudes and philosophies. Paul taught,

Rom. 12:2 not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind...

As chapter two begins, James gives us an example of how conformity to the world's philosophies can stain us with sin.

2:1 Holding Your Faith With Personal Favoritism

Here is a great example of how to remain unstained by the world - don't take the world's attitude of "personal favoritism."

"Personal favoritism" is one long word in the Greek language in which James was writing. It comes from two words - the first meaning "receive" or "take," and the second meaning "face" or "person." The word James uses literally means, "taking at face value," or "receiving someone by what they appear to be." In other words, he is saying, "Don't let your Christianity be influenced by people's face value, by what they initially appear to be."

You see, the world has trained us to respect the smart and belittle the dumb. We love the beautiful and hate the unattractive. We admire the famous and disregard the nobody. We all do it, every day. We make judgments about people based on how they look, how they speak, how they stand, what kind of car they drive, or where they work.

It's not a sin to make the observation, but we enter into sin when we decide that someone isn't worthy of our friendship, of our smile, of our time, or our efforts. And worst of all, we make decisions about who is worthy of salvation based on people's face value. We determine how important they are in the kingdom of God by their outer appearance.

I recall a time that I was teaching on a midweek evening a number of years ago. Everyone was all settled in and the study had begun. But then I saw a man walk in who looked terribly suspicious. I knew by the way he was dressed, the way he appeared, and the look in his eyes he was there for trouble. "Probably strung out on drugs, he's going to make a scene," I thought. "Where are the deacons when you need them?"

But how wrong I turned out to be - what a blessed brother in Christ this person was! He wasn't there for trouble - he was there for the Word.

Others have made distinctions by appearance as well. I think of the prophet Samuel, who was a very godly man. After King Saul had proven himself to be wicked, the Lord told Samuel,

1Sam. 16:1 "...I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have selected a king for Myself among his sons."

Samuel came to Bethlehem and had a big dinner for Jesse and his sons. When Jesse's oldest son, El-ee-AWB, walked in, Samuel thought, "Look at this guy - he's tall, strong, and handsome. This must certainly be the guy that the Lord has chosen."

1Sam. 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God {sees} not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

God makes judgments based on people's hearts, not their beauty, their income, or their race. When we had the opportunity after worship to introduce ourselves to someone else, some may have only sought out the friendly faces, the people their age, those that appeared to be on the same social level, or the same ethnic persuasion. It is instinctive, but it is wrong. Although we are naturally partial to those who are similar to us, we are supposed to be ridding ourselves of natural, sinful tendencies. We are supposed to be becoming more like the Lord.

If we are to be more like Him, we need to do as He does and follow what He says. Jesus said,

John 7:24 "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."

And Paul wrote,

Rom. 2:11 For there is no partiality with God.

That is why the proverb says,

Prov. 24:23 ...To show partiality in judgment is not good.

This is a serious matter that not a lot of us have dealt with yet in our lives. But the Lord wants us to deal with it, so he has brought it out through James.

2:2-4 Special Attention To The Rich

Now James gives us a specific example of this behavior - the distinction we make between the rich and the poor. In churches throughout the ages, this has been a terrible problem. Those who donate large sums of money are catered to, given the primo pew position, greeted warmly and treated specially. The poor, the dingy, and the unkempt are told to sit in back.

When we make this distinction, he says we have become judges with evil motives. The Law spoke strongly against this. In Leviticus we read,

Lev. 19:15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.'

Now, I thank God that we don't have such a system in place here. However, we are still guilty of making those distinctions in other ways, both less obvious and less public.

On Friday, a man came into the office. He was homeless, needed help to get to Denver, but had been caught trying to hop the train. Trying to avoid going to jail, he asked for help from every agency in town he could find, but to no avail.

As he was walking down Lincolnway, he happened by our office door, and came in. Of course we were willing to help. We got him a Greyhound ticket down to Denver. But then he came back into the office and told me that his shoes were a half size too tight, and didn't think he could walk to the bus station. He asked if I could give him a ride. I obliged, but was nervous. As we drove down the street, every time his hand moved, I was sure he was going to pull out a gun or a knife.

But instead of killing me, he began to tell me about how he was relying on Jesus every day to carry him through this tough season in his life. When we got to the bus station, he shook my hand, blessed me in the name of the Lord, and said, "Thank you, Father."

Driving back, I realized that, although I had meditated on this Scripture all week, it had not yet affected my actions - I was still making distinctions between the rich man and the poor. I hope that I have learned this lesson. I know that Peter finally got it, for he said,

Acts 10:34 ..."I most certainly understand {now} that God is not one to show partiality"

James then goes on to give them a practical reason why this kind of distinction represents such a blindness in our own flesh.

2:5-7 Rich And Poor

In his example of the rich and poor, James points out that the rich, by and large, have no heart for God, and no mercy on us. As for the poor, why are we discriminating against them, when God has chosen so many of them for salvation? As the Corinthians were told,

1Cor. 1:26-29 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God.

God has chosen the poor, but we have despised them - what's wrong with this picture?

2:8-9 Fulfilling With Love

Love is the fulfillment of the Law. When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment in the Law, He said,

Matt. 22:37-40 ..."‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."

So, if you love God and love people, then you are fulfilling the requirements of the Law.

And perfect love does not show partiality. If we are discriminating against people for whatever reason, we are not loving as Christ loved. If that is the case, we are sinning, for we are falling short of God's standard, breaking the two greatest commandments of the Law. And James is going on to show us just how serious it is to violate the Law of God.

2:10-11 Guilty Of All

Sin is sin. We can act pious and say, "I thank God that I'm not on drugs. I thank the Lord that I'm not a thief." Yet, if we are violating the Law - even with sin that we think of as small - what's the difference? Is adultery less offensive to God than murder? Is showing partiality to some people less offensive to God than theft? He has given us the whole Law, the whole picture of righteousness - not that we could pick and choose what we agreed with, or wanted to follow, but to see true perfection, real righteousness.

2:12-13 Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

As we heard Jesus say already, love is the fulfillment of the Law. Thus, love is the perfect law of liberty. Although law and liberty sound like opposites, they are not. Our own nation is founded on the citizens' liberty, which is given by laws. The law that forbids murder gives you liberty to free speech, since your speech may make someone want to kill you. The law that forbids theft gives you liberty to make money and be financially secure, since your finances may be the object of someone's greed.

Love is the law of liberty, because it gives us freedom by giving us boundaries.

Jesus told us that our works will all be judged. When your Christian life is reviewed, will it show a person that loved others? Will it show a person that showed no partiality? Will it show a person who was always merciful? As Jesus and His disciples were leaving Jericho, a huge crowd followed them.

Matt. 20:30-34 And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, "Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!" And the multitude sternly told them to be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, "Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!" And Jesus stopped and called them, and said, "What do you want Me to do for you?" They said to Him, "Lord, {we want} our eyes to be opened." And moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.

When the blind men cried out for mercy, they received two responses: the crowd sternly told them to keep their mouths shut. But Jesus reached out mercifully. Which response would I, you, we, have given? Mercy triumphs over judgment.

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