June 9th, 2013
Bible Memory Verse for the Week: But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. — James 2:9
By faith believers now belong to that heavenly realm as its citizens (Phil 3:20) and also await from heaven the Lord Jesus who will transform our ‘bodies of humility’ into ‘bodies of glory’ (Phil 3:21). We may suggest, then, that exaltation includes the believer’s present enjoyment of his exalted spiritual status as well as his hope of participation in the glorious eternal kingdom inaugurated by Christ. It is just this combination of present status and future inheritance that James singles out in a verse that is almost a commentary on the meaning of hypsos (2:5). (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 67)
Favoritism reveals a heart that loves things, status and power and will use people to get things. — Pastor Keith
Favoritism = controlled by surfaces or controlled by face, money, looks, power.
- The Church was the only place in the ancient world where social distinctions did not exist. There must have been a certain initial awkwardness when a master found himself sitting next to his slave or when a master arrived at a service in which his slave was actually the leader and the dispenser of the Sacrament. The gap between the slave, who in law was nothing more than a living tool, and the master was so wide as to cause problems of approach on either side. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 65)
- The world of James was different from our own in a number of fundamental ways, three of which are: (1) social standing was not nearly as often a function of wealth as it is in our world; (2) there was almost no possibility of social or economic climbing in James’ world; (3) the social and economic pyramid in the Roman empire was incredibly steep, with virtually no middle class as we understand that term. Perhaps 8% of the population had wealth, another 2% were gaining it, and the remaining 90% lived in conditions that we might describe as poor. (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 123)
- (v. 1) The construction of the Greek shows that James was forbidding a practice already in progress. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 43)
- (v. 2) What little we know of ancient mercantilism suggests that all but the wealthy wore homemade clothing. There is no reason to doubt that this was the case in Palestine. One of the clearest markers of status in the Roman world was attire. (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 116)
- (v. 2) Chrusodaktulios (with a gold ring) literally means “gold-fingered,” and could indicate the person was wearing more than one ring. It was a common practice among well-to-do people of that day, both Jews and Gentiles, to wear numerous rings on their fingers as marks of wealth and social status. (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 102)
- (v. 2) In the Roman world the poor were faceless nothings in the eyes of the wealthy. (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 117)
- (v. 5) By saying that the believers’ poverty is poverty “in the eyes of the world,” James is suggesting that they are not really poor. They are “rich in faith” and heirs of the kingdom. The aspect of the kingdom James has in mind is yet future. It is the eternal kingdom that Christ equated with eternal life (Mt 25:34, 46). So James has shown us that the social snobbery of the world is short-sighted and superficial. And the favoritism James’ readers practiced was based on this same shallow kind of evaluation. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 178)
- (v. 6) The word for “insulted” is derived from atimao, a term used for oppressing the poor in the LXX (Prv 14:21). (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 119)
- (v. 6) In the society which James inhabited the rich oppressed the poor. They dragged them to the law-courts. No doubt this was for debt. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 67)
- (v. 7) The rich and the masters would have many a reason for insulting the name Christian. A slave who became a Christian would have a new independence; he would no longer cringe at his master’s power, punishment would cease to terrorize him and he would meet his master clad in a new manhood. He would have a new honesty. That would make him a better slave, but it would also mean he could no longer be his master’s instrument in sharp practice and petty dishonesty as once he might have been. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 67-68)
- (v. 9) An attitude of personal favoritism translates the single Greek word prosōpolēmptēs (see Acts 10:34, “partiality”) and the verb prosōpolēmptēo (see Jas 2:9, “show partiality”) are found only in Christian writings. Perhaps that is because favoritism was such an accepted part of most ancient societies that it was assumed and not even identified, as it still is in many cultures today. (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 98)
- (v. 9) Partiality is not merely a matter of inconsiderateness or discourtesy but is a serious sin. In this verse James speaks of it in two forms, or aspects. Hamartia, translated simply sin, pertains to missing the mark of God’s standard of righteousness, whereas parabatēs (transgressors) refers to someone who willfully goes beyond God’s prescribed limits. In the one case, a person comes short; in the other, he goes too far. (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 113)
- (v. 11) This verse explains why the law must be considered a unity. As long as the law is viewed simply as a series of individual commandments, it would be possible to think that disobedience of a particular commandment incurred guilt for that commandment only. But, in fact, the individual commandments are all components of one indivisible whole, because they reflect the will of the one Lawgiver. To violate a commandment is to disobey God himself and render a person guilty before him. (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 95-96)
- Finally, there is a clear association with the Matthean Gospel tradition. Like Jesus in Matthew, James pronounces a blessing on the poor (Mt 5:3; Jas 2:5); issues a warning to the wealthy (Mt 19:23-24; Jas 2:6-7), and warns against judging instead of showing mercy (Mt 6:14-15; Jas 2:13). All of this speaks to an awareness on the part of James to the Jesus tradition. Further, the form in which James presents this material indicates that he had access to it at a very early date. (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 113)
- The amount of space James devotes to this topic suggests that the problem was a very real one among his readers. Apparently the oppression they were experiencing at the hands of the rich (cf. vv 6-7) had led not to a retaliation in kind, but to an excessive deference towards the rich and powerful that resulted in a slighting and demeaning of poorer people. (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 87)
The question to be answered is . . . What is James trying to communicate to us here in James 2:1-13?
Answer: James is trying to get us to see that if we have real faith and have truly adopted God’s values, then we will not see people as the world sees them. The world loves things and uses people. The Christian SHOULD love people and use things. Christians endeavor to show no favoritism because the Christian understands that every person is created in the image of God and that our glorious Lord Jesus is all we truly need to really live.
The instinctive nature of prejudice and bias: It comes as a result of our own self-interests, preferences, perspective and history. In many ways, there is simply no way to totally get rid of profiling as it can never be anything but a reflection of reality as perceived by the one who is profiling. Every conclusion we make based on evidence we have seen prior is a kind of profiling. It simply cannot be avoided without giving all of us a lobotomy. Even those who make the charge of profiling are prejudiced in their judgment as they are assuming they know the motives and intentions of the one they are accusing of profiling. How can they possibly comprehensively know the reason and motivation behind someone’s decision making? — Pastor Keith
Wouldn’t it be nice if all our relationships were guided by the royal law of love? But the fact is, we all have certain built-in prejudices that color our reactions to people. Some hold prejudices against divorced people or people who have been emotionally ill or those who belong to a different political, ethnic, or religious background.
These kinds of prejudices produce cliques, gossip mongers, legalists, and power-hungry groups in churches who put enormous pressure on others to conform to their rules of behavior. (Charles R. Swindoll, James: Practical and Authentic Living, 70)
When Oxford and Cambridge Universities decided to admit commoners as students in the 1600s, the unprecedented flood of new innovative thought had a tremendous impact on British society. Each student was listed on the record by name and title. The commoners’ names were listed with the Latin inscription, Sine Nobilitate, meaning Without Nobility. The abbreviation was S. Nob., which within the rigid class systems of the time had both positive and negative connotations. The word “snob” is still in use today. (Bits & Pieces, June 25, 1992)
The phrase for the day is . . . Don’t be a snob
Snob = one who obviously imitates, fawningly admires, or vulgarly seeks association with those in a superior position. One who looks down on those in an inferior position. One whose attitude is offensively superior
To outsiders the word Christian has more in common with a brand than a faith. This shift of meaning in recent decades has been magnified by an increasing use of the term Christian to label music, clothes, schools, political action groups, and more. And sadly, it is a bad brand in the minds of tens of millions of people. In the middle of a culture where Christianity has come to represent hypocrisy, judgmentalism, anti-intellectualism, insensitivity, and bigotry, it’s easy to see why the next generation wants nothing to do with it. (David Kinnaman, Unchristian, 223)
Surveys show that only 8% of an American audience pays attention to the content of a speech, 42% to the speaker’s appearance, and 50% to how the persons speaks. (Os Guinness; Fit Bodies , Fat Minds, 92-93)
Why is favoritism wrong?:
I. It shows we do not see Jesus as glorious (Jas 2:1; see also: Jn 1:1-14; Eph 1:15-23; Col 1:9-23; Phil 3:7-11)
Physical tastes like hot fudge vs. caramel are morally neutral. It’s not right or wrong to like the one over the other. But having a spiritual taste for the glory of Christ is not morally neutral. Not to have it is evil and deadly. Not to see and savor Christ is an insult to the beauty and worth of his character. Preferring anything above Christ is the very essence of sin. It must be fought. (John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, 33)
Jesus emphasized the danger of misreading outward evidence when he described how he appears to the world: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Mt 25:35). The point is that favoritism is not just mistreating people or breaking a standard of conduct–it is, in fact, treating Jesus as though he had little value. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 46)
The descriptive adjective glorious in this passage demonstrates contrast between the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ and the glitter of earthly riches. The brothers should not look at their fellow man and judge him merely by external appearance. Therefore, James admonishes his readers, “don’t show favoritism.” Don’t look at a person’s face, clothing, wealth, and position! Don’t be biased in your judgment! “A just judge must not be influenced by personal prejudices, hopes, or fears, but by the single desire to do justice.” (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 72)
“Have you not discriminated among yourselves?” To ask the question is to answer it. Certainly, they discriminate and have “become judges with evil thoughts.” Instead of looking at the incomparable glory of the Lord, they are staring at the splendor of a gold ring and fine clothes. Instead of honoring Jesus Christ, they are paying respect to a rich man and despising a poor man. And instead of accepting persons on the basis of faith in Christ, they are showing favoritism based on appearance and status. (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 74)
In this rare case of Christology in the book of James, Jesus Christ is identified with the Shekinah, the visible manifestation of the divine. James believes that in Jesus God is revealed.
Furthermore, Jesus is the object of faith. There is clearly more than a meager gospel here, for Jesus Christ, the very manifestation of God’s glory, chose to identify with the poor and the outcasts. On the strength of that model and memory James urges his readers to avoid favoritism, just as did our Lord. (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 115)
II. It reveals your evil value system (Jas 2:2-4; see also: Dt 1:17; 10:17; Jn 7:24)
Favoritism is almost a constant in human society. Some years ago, a group researched the way someone’s clothing affects the way others perceive him. They put a man on the street in a business district in New York City, pleading for cash with this line: “I’ve lost my wallet and need money for a taxi to the airport. This is my name, address, and phone number. If you loan me the money, I’ll repay you as soon as I get home.” They put the same man, wearing the same suit, on the same street, using the same line on consecutive weekdays. But in a year when beige was proper attire, he wore a beige overcoat one day and black the next. The result: his proceeds on the beige day doubled his proceeds on the black day. It was simple favoritism. (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 61-62)
A judge whose thoughts are evil can never be impartial; the justice that he administers is a farce. Since time immemorial, justice has been depicted as a blindfolded lady who holds scales in her hand. The blindfold prevents her from seeing anyone so that she is able to serve impartially the cause of justice. Within the context of the Christian faith, practicing discrimination is the exact opposite of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 74)
“We live in a world where preferences have supplanted objective truth.” (R. C. Sproul sermon, “A BLUEPRINT FOR THINKING”)
Such favoritism mirrored the standards of the surrounding culture and ignored the essentially egalitarian tone of the Christian gospel. It is an obvious example of the failure to “keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (1:27). (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 113)
We live in a culture in which we are superficial in our relationships. Image is everything. But with God the opposite is the case. Image is nothing. What is in the heart is everything. —Pastor Keith
God is absolutely impartial in His dealing with people. And in that way, as with His other attributes, He is unlike us. Human beings, even Christians, are not naturally inclined to be impartial. We tend to put people in pigeonholes, in predetermined, stratified categories, ranking them by their looks, their clothes, their race or ethnicity, their social status, their personality, their intelligence, their wealth and power, by the kind of car they drive, and by the type of house and neighborhood they live in.
But all of those things are nonissues with God, of no significance or meaning to Him whatever. Moses declared, “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God.” He then added that this great and awesome God, who has the right to be however He wants to be, “does not show partiality nor take a bribe’ (Dt 10:17), and He expects his people to reflect that same impartiality. (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 93-94)
Black scholars debate the benefits, but few deny the costs. Racial preferences lead to “a kind of demoralization,” as Professor Shelby Steele has put it, because “the quality that earns us preferential treatment is an implied inferiority.” (Philip K. Howard; The Death of Common Sense, p. 141)
III. You are siding with the wrong people (Jas 2:5-7; see also: Mt 12:30; Lk 11:23; 1 Pt 3:12)
The Gospel is especially empowering and compelling to the poor. (Tim Keller message “Injustice: Hasn’t Christianity Been and Instrument of Oppression?”)
The Gospel is always more compelling to people who know their own inadequacies. (Tim Keller message “Injustice: Hasn’t Christianity Been and Instrument of Oppression?”)
The point is that it makes no sense to show favoritism to wealthy Christians just because of their wealth. After all, it is wealth and status that grants to non-Christians the ability to oppress the church. It makes no sense for Christians to show favoritism based solely on factors that on other occasions are used to exploit Christians. (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 116)
Upon what grounds did James make this command? Because impartiality is an attribute of God (Dt 10:17; Acts 3:25); impartiality was an attitude Jesus practiced (Mt 22:16; Mk 12:14; Lk 20:21); Scripture had warned against favoritism (Lv 19:15; Dt 1:17; Ps 82:2; Prv 18:5). James emphasized two clear points:
1. Shunning the poor contrasts with God’s attitude because he chose the poor to be rich in faith (2:5)
2. Favoritism goes against God’s royal law to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (2:8). Showing favoritism based on external considerations is inconsistent with faith in Christ, who breaks down the barriers of race, class, gender, and religion (Col 3:11). (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 44)
The defect of equality is that we only desire it with our superiors.— Henry Becque
IV. You are violating the Royal Law (Jas 2:8-12; see also: Lv 19:15-18; Mt 7:12; 22:37-40; Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; )
We only believe as much of the Bible as we practice. If we fail to obey the most important Word–“love thy neighbor as thyself”–then we will not do any good with the lesser matters of the Word. It was a glaring fault in the Pharisees that they were careful about the minor matters and careless about the fundamentals (Mt 23:23). They broke the very Law they thought they were defending! (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 71)
“The law is a transcript of divine character,” and any violation of it is a violation of the character of God. The same evil that causes us to break one of God’s laws will, in different circumstances, cause us to break the others. (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 100)
In the OT, the neighbor (rē’a) means particularly the fellow-Israelite, but Jesus expands the application to include everyone that a person might come into contact with, including foreigners (Lk 10:25-37) and enemies (Mt 5:44). James is in line with that teaching as he argues that love for the neighbor, the heart of ‘the royal law’, forbids the church from discriminating against any who might enter its doors. (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 94)
James calls the great injunction to love our neighbor as ourselves the royal law. There can be various meanings of the phrase. It may mean the law which is of supreme excellence; it may mean the law which is given by the King of the kings; it may mean the king of all laws; it may mean the law that makes men kings and is fit for kings. To keep that greatest law is to become king of oneself and a king among men. It is a law fit for those who are royal, and able to make men royal. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 69)
To break any part of the law is to become a transgressor in principle. Even under human justice a man becomes a criminal when he has broken one law. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 69)
A person may observe all the laws of health, but if he inhales one whiff of poison, he may die; so we may be outwardly obedient to the entire Decalogue, but delinquency in love will invalidate everything. —F. B. Meyer
Some sins are relatively light and some are extremely vile. But breaking even “one of the least of these commandments” (Mt 5:19) shatters the unity of God’s holy law and turns the guilty person into a transgressor. Paul wrote of this same truth in Gal 3:10-13. (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 114)
A biblical view of law is one that plays no favorites and shows no partiality. In Dt 16:19, God tells the ancient Israelites: “You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality.”
This biblical ideal is what undergirds the rule of law, where the law applies to everyone equally. James Madison wrote that the great aim of government is to be “neutral between different parts of the Society”–so that the law neither privileges nor penalizes any particular group. (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 298)
We never break the other commandments without breaking the first one. Why do we fail to love or keep promises or live unselfishly? Of course, the general answer is “because we are weak and sinful,” but the specific answer in any actual circumstance is that there is something you feel you must have to be happy, something that is more important to your heart than God himself. We would not lie unless we first had made something – human approval, reputation, power over others, financial advantage – more important and valuable to our hearts than the grace and favor of God. The secret to change is to identify and dismantle the counterfeit gods of your heart. (Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 166)
Why does America need 70% of the world’s lawyers when it has only 5% of the world’s population? No wonder America is suffering from a litigation explosion. Lawsuits are even driving some businesses out of the country.
What’s behind this staggering increase in lawsuits?
At its root is a change in the concept of law itself. The classical view is that law is based on unchanging principles of justice. The duty of a judge is to apply the law objectively, without being biased by personal feelings or preferences.
But in the 1920s and 1930s a new theory of law appeared: legal realism–so called because it claims to be more realistic than the classical view. The new theory says judges are just ordinary people. They can’t help being influenced by their own concerns. They can’t be completely objective.
So let’s stop asking them to try, legal realism says. Let’s stop talking about objective principles of justice and just admit that judges make decisions according to their own personal or political agendas. Law was redefined as social engineering by judges.
Legal realism took hold in the 1960s, when the judiciary turned to the left. Judges came to believe that the rich were rich because they oppressed the poor. They began treating lawsuits as a means of punishing the rich and redistributing wealth to the little guy.
This new theory is at work in many of today’s far-fetched lawsuits. Take the case some years ago when angry unionists set fire to a large hotel in Puerto Rico. Lawyers for the victims of the fire didn’t sue the individual arsonists. After all, they were union members; they represented the little guy. No, the lawyers went after the companies that made the carpets, the wallpaper, the bar stools–arguing that the companies should have made their products fire-resistant. They even sued the company that made the dice used in the hotel casino.
It was a classic case of using lawsuits to soak the rich.
In the OT law, you won’t find this bias against the rich. In Ex 23:6, Scripture demands justice for the poor. But in the very same context, it warns us not to be partial to the poor either. This is the classical view of law–impartial justice for rich and poor alike.
If lawyers were to recover that view, our nation would not be overrun by lawyers whose hidden agenda is to change the social and economic structures of society. (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 295-96)
The Bible is royal because it has God as its Author. Nearly 4,000 times in the OT alone, 700 times in the Pentateuch, 40 times in one chapter, that claim is made. “God said”, “God spoke”, “the word of the Lord came”, “the Lord commanded”–this is the language of the OT from beginning to end. Incidentally, if these statements are false, then the Bible is surely the most evil and perverse book ever written, because it tells nearly 4,000 blasphemous lies about its origin in its first section alone! (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 140)
What he is saying is that because the law of God is an entity, a unity, even one sin results in the law as a whole being broken. This is the crushing truth that has to be faced by the unconverted person who is hoping to cancel out his bad deeds by his good ones. As Paul told the Galatians, even the man who tries to obtain God’s favor by religious observance is “obligated to obey the whole law” (Gal 5:3). Earlier in the same letter he wrote, ‘All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the Law”’ (Gal 3:10). Notice the ‘everything’! The man seeking to get right with God under his own steam is in a hopeless position, because he would need to keep every single part of the law of God throughout his entire life. (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 144)
We occasionally hear people say things like, “We don’t need to live by laws; we just need to love one another.” We can sympathize with the idea that anyone who truly loves does not need the law. Yet we should never pit love and the law against each other, for love and God’s law are coherent. The law tells us how to love, and love fulfills the law. Love has primacy within the law, not over the law! (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 70)
In a way, favoritism violates the whole law because all commands are connected. “Sit here on the floor” breaks many commandments. We see this as we work backward through the Decalogue:
* Tenth commandment. Favoritism prefers the rich man because it covets the riches that the rich can bestow.
* Ninth commandment. It bears false witness because it implies that a poor man has less worth.
* Eighth commandment. It robs the poor of the dignity they deserve.
* Seventh commandment. To favor the rich is a kind of unfaithfulness to the bond of Christian fellowship.
* Sixth commandment. It kills the spirit of the poor by demeaning them, even in the church.
* Fifth commandment. Favoritism dishonors the poor, but we must honor all who deserve honor, including one another.
* Fourth commandment. If we show favoritism in church, we defile our worship, hence the Lord’s Day.
* Third commandment. Every believer is a representative of God. If we favor the rich over the poor, we misrepresent God and his name, for he does not play favorites.
* First and second commandments. God gave this command. All disobedience is a kind of denial of God’s lordship. (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 72-73)
V. Favoritism negates mercy. (Jas 2:13; see also: Prv 11:17; Mt 5:7; 6:14-15; 18:21-35)
Being partial is in total conflict with our salvation and with what Scripture teaches (cf. Lv 19:15; Prv 24:23; 28:21). If we are saved, we are children of God; and if we are His children, we should emulate Him. Paul declares categorically that “there is no partiality with God” (Rom 2:11; cf. Lv 19:15; Job 34:19; Prv 24:23; 28:21; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; 1 Pt 1:17).
There is, of course, a proper special respect and honor that should be shown to the elderly and to those in authority, both in the church and in society in general. (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 97)
Mercy is precisely what the believers were not showing when they insulted poor people. If they continued to discriminate, they would be in danger of facing their own judgment without mercy. This is an excellent statement of NT ethics: What we do to others we actually do to God, and he returns it upon our heads. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 56)
CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: Three questions that can help us identify favoritism in our lives and confirm our faith: (I am deeply indebted to the Chuck Swindoll message, “Prejudice is a Sin” for this section of today’s outline)
A- What is my basis for evaluating people—The Scriptures or superficial cultural standards? (Ps 19:7-14; 119:105; Prv 3:5-6; 2 Tm 3:16-17; Heb 4:12)
Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true. — Francis Bacon
The phraseology of James also draws on belief in God’s choosing of certain persons and peoples. God chose Israel (Dt 4:37), and he chose the Gentiles to be the mission field for Paul (Acts 15:7). According to James, God has chosen for himself the poor. (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 118)
My aim to invigorate you in the pursuit of knowing God for the sake of loving God would be in vain if there were no such thing as reliable, objective knowledge of real things. But one of the most common notions today is that such knowledge is impossible.
One of the names for this attitude is relativism. In the next two chapters, I will try to explain what it is and what Jesus thought about it. I will argue in chapter 7 that relativism is neither intellectually compelling nor morally upright. It is emotionally gratifying because it seems to protect my personal preferences from external judgment. Jesus knew this sort of evasive use of the mind. He did not like it. (John Piper, Think, 91-2)
Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, elaborates on this marvelous truth of equality that retains a difference. He demonstrates that in God’s economy there is an egalitarianism in people but an elitism in ideas. By that he means the equality of all humanity but the inequality of ideas. While human beings are equal, ideas are not. By contrast, in the world’s way of doing things we have created an elitism among people and an egalitarianism of ideas: We have made some people superior to others and rendered all ideas equal. The end result has been the exploitation of people and the death of truth. And that is why we have an epidemic of evil that denudes people but fights for ideas. (Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil: Restoring the Soul in a Disintegrating Culture, 207)
“If the God of life does not respond to the culture of death (21st century western civilization – abortion) with judgment, then God is not god. If God does not honor the blood of hundreds of millions of innocent victims of this culture of death, then the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, the God of Israel, the God of the prophets, is a man-made myth, a fairy tale, a comfortable ideal as substantial as a dream.
But, you may object: Is not the God of the Bible forgiving?
He is! But, the unrepentant refuse forgiveness. Forgiveness being a gift of grace, must be freely given and freely received. How can it be received by a moral relativist who denies that there is anything to forgive, except unforgiveness; nothing to judge but judgmentalism; nothing lacking but self-esteem? How can a Pharisee or a pop-psychologist be saved?
But, you might object: Is not the God of the Bible compassionate?
He is! But, He is not compassionate to Molech and Baal and Ashtoreth, and to the Canaanites who do their work who cause their children to pass through the fire. Perhaps your god is compassionate to the work of human sacrifice, the god of your demands, the god of your religious preferences. But, not the God of the Bible. Read the Book. Look at the data. (Peter Kreeft message, “Culture War”)
It is vitally important to notice that James argues his case against discrimination not on the grounds that God does not choose, but on the grounds that he does! This seems quite extraordinary, but its irresistible logic will come through as we recognize that James is basing his argument on a truth which forms part of the bone structure of the whole Bible, and that is God’s sovereign right to do precisely what he wishes to do with the whole of his own creation. Remove that truth from the Bible and you are left with a haphazard jumble of religious words; recognize it in the Bible and you have a firm basis for everything else you read. (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 122)
It is important to notice James’ precise wording here. People were not chosen because they were rich in faith; they were chosen to be rich in (or through) faith. Grace is not a reward for faith; faith is the result of grace. What is more, this God-given faith enables the Christian to see more and more of the truth that in Christ he is ‘enriched in every way’ (1 Cor 1:5). (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 126)
Nowadays, “moralizing” is a dirty word in public education, and the consensus on what constitutes good and evil has contracted: for a regnant educational elite, moral tolerance is now the only good, and moral intolerance the only evil. In the kingdom of the elite, classroom wars between good and evil thin down to angry border skirmishes between the politically correct and the politically challenged. The politically challenged are, of course, those doofuses who still use short words when they talk–words like good, bad, right, and wrong. The politically correct, on the other hand, prefer more leisurely and ironic expressions. To be sure, the politically correct (e.g., those who describe a lazy person as “motivationally dispossessed” and prostitutes as “sex care providers”) are still willing to make moral judgments–but only of those who make moral judgments. They say things like this: “It is always wrong to make moral judgments.” (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 100-01)
Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (Jn 7:24). Righteous judgment is the direct result of love. If you cannot pray in love for a person or the church, do not presume you have true discernment. Love precedes peace, and peace precedes perception. Without love and peace in your heart, your judgment will be overly harsh. Regardless of the smile upon your face, your heart will have too much anger. False discernment is always slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 81)
B- What is guiding my relationships with others: self-interest or their well-being? (Rom 2:8; 12:10; 15:1ff; Eph 5:21; Phil 2:1-11)
The only “favoritism” that the Lord honors is that in which “with humility of mind [we] regard one another as more important than [ourselves]” (Phil 2:3). That sort of unselfish partiality favors the needs of others above our own, their welfare and well-being above ours. (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 103-04)
In 2:1-13 James issues an unmistakably strong call to avoid certain aspects of Roman culture, particularly those aspects that supported social and economic stratification. It is vital to note that he is not universal in this condemnation of culture. What he opposes is the spirit of the age, a spirit of self-interest. Likewise, there is much that is dangerous and sick in our culture. (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 133)
Wealth is to be accumulated strictly for doing works of mercy and spreading the kingdom. Wealth is not to be stored up “for yourselves (Mt 6:19-21). (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 72)
If your giving to the needy does not burden you or cut into your lifestyle in any way, you must give more! (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 75)
Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve. Sometimes the high and powerful are served because that will ensure a certain advantage. Sometimes the low and defenseless are served because that will ensure a humble image. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry. It has heard the command of Jesus to be the “servant of all” (Mk 9:35). Brother Francis of Assisi notes in a letter, “Being the servant of all, I am bound to serve all and to administer the balm-bearing words of my lord.”
Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims. It can serve only when there is a “feeling” to serve (“moved by the Spirit” as we say). Ill health or inadequate sleep controls the desire to serve. True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need. It knows that the “feeling to serve” can often be a hindrance to true service. The service disciplines the feelings rather than allowing the feeling to control the service. (Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 129)
Because we naturally love ourselves so much–whose mouth we are careful to feed, whose body we take care to dress, whose looks we are concerned about, whose job and career occupy our minds, whose life we are determined to make comfortable and happy–that is the same concern we should have for others. And when we determine to occupy ourselves with such love for others, thus fulfilling God’s sovereign law, we will have no problem with partiality (cf. Phil 2:3-4). (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 112)
C- Is favoritism or mercy evident in my life? Do I fully realize that I too have failed to be all God designed and created me to be and that mercy is my only hope? (Mt 5:7, 48; 6:14-15; 18:21-35; Lk 6:36; Eph 4:32; Col 3:12-17; )
The ground at the foot of the cross is level. (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 119)
We have been studying a section which shows us all to be law-breakers, guilty, every time we sin, of violating God’s law. If we are in any way sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s voice at this point, we find ourselves utterly exposed in the sight of God and crying out with the psalmist: ‘Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you’ (Ps 143:2) and asking, ‘If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?’ (Ps 130:3). How can we possibly go on as Christians when we realize that even at our best we fall so far short of what God commands us to be? (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 146)
“The first things, therefore, we must say about the peacemaker is that he has an entirely new view of himself, a new view which really amounts to this. He has seen himself and has come to see that in a sense this miserable, wretched self is not worth bothering about at all. It is so wretched; it has no rights or privileges; it does not deserve anything. If you have seen yourself as poor in spirit, if you have mourned because of the blackness of your heart, if you have truly seen yourself and have hungered and thirsted after righteousness, you will not stand any longer on your rights and privileges, you will not be asking, “What about me in this?” You will have forgotten this self.” — D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Mercy to the full range of human needs is such an essential mark of being a Christian that it can be used as a test of true faith. Mercy is not optional or an addition to being a Christian. Rather, a life poured out in deeds of mercy is the inevitable sign of true faith. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 35)
Now we are in a position to see why Jesus (and Isaiah, James, John, and Paul) can use the ministry of mercy as a way to judge between true and false Christianity. A merely religious person, who believes God will favor him because of his morality and respectability, will ordinarily have contempt for the outcast. “I worked hard to get where I am, and so can anyone else!” That is the language of the moralist’s heart. “I am only where I am by the sheer and unmerited mercy of God. I am completely equal with all other people.” That is the language of the Christian’s heart. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 61)
As Edmund Clowney has put it, “God requires the love that cannot be required.” Mercy is commanded, but it must not be the response to a command, it is an overflowing generosity as a response to the mercy of God which we received. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 62)
Competitive comparison is the main way elder brothers achieve a sense of their own significance. Racism and classism are just different versions of this form of the self-salvation project. This dynamic becomes exceptionally intense when elder brothers pride themselves above all for their right religion. If a group believes God favors them because of their particularly true doctrine, ways of worship, and ethical behavior, their attitude toward those without these things can be hostile. Their self-righteousness hides under the claim that they are only opposing the enemies of God. When you look at the world through those lenses, it becomes easy to justify hate and oppression, all in the name of truth. (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, 54)
The Jews tended to regard the law as a series of detached commands. To keep one of those commands was to gain credit. To break one was to incur debt. Therefore a man could add up the ones he kept and subtract the ones he broke and, as it were, emerge with a moral credit or debit balance.
That philosophy, of course, is common to every works-righteousness system of religion. The idea is that acceptance or rejection by God depends essentially on the moral standing of the person himself. If he does more good than bad, he is accepted by God. If the scale tilts the other way, he is rejected.
That totally unbiblical notion is firmly believed by many, many people, including many who name the name of Christ. God’s standard, however, is perfection. Jesus declared, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). God will accept nothing less. But because no sinful human being can possibly attain to that perfection, God has graciously provided for it to be imputed through the vicarious atonement of His sinless Son. (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 114-15)
The admonition to speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty is tantamount to saying, “Live and act as a true believer who has been saved by God’s grace and who will be judged on the basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness. That righteousness frees the believer from the law of bondage and judges him under the redeeming law of liberty, God’s Word of the gospel, the NT in Jesus Christ, which frees the repentant sinner from the bondage of sin (cf. Jn 8:31-32). (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 116)
It is a fact, unhappy but undeniable, that repentance nowadays rarely gets mentioned in evangelism, nurture, and pastoral care, even among evangelicals and Christian traditionalists. The preoccupations of stirring congregational excitement, sustaining believers through crises, finding and honing gifts and skills, providing interest-based programs, and counseling people with relational problems, have displaced it. As a result, the churches, themselves, orthodox and heterodox together, lack spiritual reality, and their members are all too often superficial people with no hunger for the deep things of God (J. I. Packer; Rediscovering Holiness, 144)
God’s mercy comes to us without conditions, but does not proceed without our cooperation. So too our aid must begin freely, regardless of the recipient’s merits. But our mercy must increasingly demand change or it is not really love. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 93)
For God to limit salvation on the basis of favoritism, it would have to be based on human merit. Something that he saw in us that other people did not have. Either national heritage, righteousness, holiness, goodness, generosity, kindness. Instead, God calls us according to HIS merit and according to HIS goodness and HIS holiness and HIS righteousness..
How does Jesus help us to destroy prejudices or favoritism in our lives?:
1- Jesus is glorious which means there is nothing that anyone can ever offer to begin to compare with what Jesus can offer. (Jas 2:1; see also: Jn 1:1-14; Eph 1:15-23; Col 1:9-23; Phil 3:7-11)
Douglas Webster captures the biblical vision excellently in his chapter on this passage. “The church should be a competition-free zone” where “instead of courting one another’s favor we rejoice in God’s favor”. …“Instead of maneuvering for the best possible advantage, we give ourselves to one another for the sake of Christ” (1991, 69-70; 75). (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 106)
For so great is the brightness of Christ, that it easily extinguishes all the glories of the world, if indeed it irradiates our eyes. It hence follows, that Christ is little esteemed by us, when the admiration of worldly glory lays hold on us. (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of James, 301)
The stress on Christ as “glorious” heightens the gross inconsistency of allowing favoritism and discrimination to be associated with faith in such an exalted person as Christ. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 177)
Because, as believers, we have been reborn with God’s own nature, we are to reflect His great love and care for those in need. That is the essence of who we are. To be otherwise is contrary not only to our own new nature but to the nature of God and therefore incurs His judgment. Jesus told the rich young man, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mt 19:21). The main purpose of that encounter was to test the man’s willingness to follow Jesus at any cost. But the requirement Jesus made of him also reflects the Lord’s continual concern for the welfare of the poor. (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 108)
For James, this heart-relationship to God is simply faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. He does not write to us about ‘religion’ but about ‘faith’, for he desires to lead us from the external display to the internal reality.
In this way James alerts us to the importance of the subject he is about to tackle: partiality or ‘favoritism’, or treating ‘people in different ways according to their outward appearance’ or their worldly advantages. To do so is not simply to fail to conform to a desired ‘religious’ pattern of behavior. It is to deny our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (John R.W. Stott, The Message of James, 80)
James teaches by a clear implication that in both status and judgment the Lord Jesus Christ, who is himself the Glory, must reign supreme. As to how we accept others, we must ask how he would accept them (cf. Rom 14:1, 3; 15:7). As to how we appraise others, we must ask how he appraises them. As to how we act towards others, we must ask how he would act towards them. Our values, priorities and activities must ever be governed by the definition of true glory displayed in the person, conduct and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. (John R.W. Stott, The Message of James, 86)
2- Jesus demonstrated that you can go far in this world without relying on human resources. (Jas 2:1; see also: 1 Sm 17:47; 2 Chr 32:8; Ps 44:6; 62:10; Zech 4:6; Mt 6:19-34)
The religious experts in Christ’s day judged Him by their human standards, and they rejected Him. He came from the wrong city, Nazareth of Galilee. He was not a graduate of their accepted schools. He did not have the official approval of the people in power. He had no wealth. His followers were a nondescript mob and included publicans and sinners. Yet He was the very glory of God! No wonder Jesus warned the religious leaders, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (Jn 7:24). (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 66)
The doctrine of God’s grace, if we really believe it, forces us to relate to people on the basis of God’s plan and not on the basis of human merit or social status. A “class church” is not a church that magnifies the grace of God. When He died, Jesus broke down the wall that separated Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:11-22). But in His birth and life, Jesus broke down the walls between rich and poor, young and old, educated and uneducated. It is wrong for us to build those walls again; we cannot rebuild them if we believe in the grace of God. (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 68-69)
When we honor someone just because he or she dresses well, we make appearance more important than character. Sometimes we do this because:
* Poverty makes us uncomfortable, and we don’t want to face our responsibilities to those who have less than we do.
* We too want to be wealthy, and we hope to use the rich person as a means to that end.
* We want the rich person to join our church and help support it financially.
All these motives are selfish. They may appear nothing more than practical considerations, but James calls them evil. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 47-48)
Let us never forget that the Christian church is a truly classless society. Yet the precise truth of James’ point may lie elsewhere, because the word ‘discriminated’ is basically the same as the word translated ‘doubt’ in 1:6, which obviously carries along with it the meaning of inconsistency or uncertainty. What James may be saying is that although these Christians professed to be putting their trust in the Lord, they were in fact also relying on their ability to gain whatever rewards they could by discrimination and flattery. (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 119)
Those who discriminate are possessed of wicked thoughts! They place more value on the soul of the rich man. The cavalier disregard for the poor man was an implicit devaluation of his soul. Perhaps the reasoning here was, “What a coup this rich man would be. Think what he could do for the church! But the poor man? It would take years to get him up to speed, if indeed it could be done at all.” These are evil thoughts!
The evident assumption in this favoritism was that the rich man was considered to be morally superior, or obviously smarter, more disciplined, more hard-working, and thus a “better man”–more fit for the Kingdom.
James detests such thinking. In fact, he sees this matter of partiality as a test of real faith. Favoritism is an indication of a heart that at best is in need of spiritual help and at worst is a heart without grace. (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 90-91)
The way of the world is to be nice to the nice, to people who can do things for you, and to brush off and ignore people who need your help. Congregations are particularly vulnerable to this sin of favoritism: since organizations always need money, people who have it get extra attention and clout. (Mark Jeske, The People’s Bible: James, Peter, John, Jude, 24)
The point is that our salvation is based not on any human achievement, human wealth, or human power but on God’s grace and mercy in the blood of Jesus. Look at Jesus himself: he was born to poor parents, born in a barn, spent the years of his ministry without a bed of his own, and died without even the clothes he wore to his trial. (Mark Jeske, The People’s Bible: James, Peter, John, Jude, 25)
If they were to show partiality toward certain people because they are rich, these Christians would be acting as if high position came by wealth instead of faith. In that sense, favoritism is a clear contradiction of faith. (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 90)
We experience poor substitutes for Christian friendship all week, and it is hard to change our patterns when we gather with other believers at church. We learn to treat relationships as merely opportunities to get business done; then we come to church and waste our Sabbath rest getting church business done. Instead of making contact with fellow Christians in love and then experiencing worship as celebration, we take care of self-serving agendas. (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 106)
So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior.
And as we have heard Dr. Don Turner quote Gandhi “If it were not for Christians, I might have become one.”
3- Jesus demonstrated that God’s value system is eternal and not temporal. (Jas 2:2-7; see also: Lk 18:29-30; Jn 3:14-16; 4:13-14; 5:24; 6:27-29; 10:27-30; 12:24-26, 50; 17:1-3; Rom 5:19-21; 6:22-23; 1 Cor 9:25-27; 2 Cor 4:17-5:1; 2 Thes 2:16; 1 Tm 1:16; 6:12; Ti 3:4-7; Heb 9:12-15; 13:20; 1 Pt 5:10; 2 Pt 1:10-11; 1 Jn 5:11-13)
Steven Kelman has noted the perversities of a “fair” system in which vendors who do a good job get no credit and every new contract must be bid separately without the “favoritism” of recognizing a job well done. Should someone who does a good job be treated “the same” as someone who did a bad job? There can be “no rational administration of government,” the Greek historian Polybius once said, “when good men are held in the same esteem as bad ones.” (Philip K. Howard; The Death of Common Sense, 107)
It made no difference to Jesus whether the one to whom He spoke or ministered was a wealthy Jewish leader or a common beggar, a virtuous woman or a prostitute, a high priest or a common worshiper, handsome or ugly, educated or ignorant, religious or irreligious, law-abiding citizen or criminal. His overriding concern was the condition of the soul. (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 98)
All through Scripture, the poor are objects of God’s special concern (Lv 25:25, 35-37, 39; Ps 31:1; 68:10; 72:4, 12; Prv 17:5; 21:13; 28:27; 29:7; 31:9, 20; Isa 3:14-15; 10:1-2; 25:4; Gal 2:10). (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 102)
“God,” said Abraham Lincoln, “must love the common people because he made so many of them.” (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 66)
Seers such as Dear Abby, Ann Landers, and Dr. Joyce Brothers have become celebrities by giving advice on social relations, with sex topping the list of subjects. Taken as a whole, the columns appear to support traditional values but actually work to undermine them in the name of “tolerance.” Woven into the largely common-sense denunciations of rascally boyfriends and predatory “other” women are the messages that aberrance is only in the minds of the readers and that the pansexual lobby is better equipped to preach sexual ethics to teens than are parents. In one column, Ann Landers proclaims that anyone who does not buy the myth that homosexuals are “born that way” are “haters.” She urges the “haters” to change their bigoted ways and get aboard the gay rights bandwagon. One memorable Dear Abby column in 1997 consists of a letter supposedly from an eleven-year-old boy who is happy that he is being raised by his dad and the dad’s homosexual lover. The letter deftly hits every talking point made by homosexual activists. Abby closes by telling the boy that he is very “blessed by God” for this arrangement, as if God, who declared in Genesis (later restated by both Jesus and the apostle Paul) that his plan for sexuality is for a man and a woman to marry and become “one flesh,” does not have a problem with any of this. (Robert H. Knight; The Age of Consent, 23-24)
The modern workplace not only diminishes accountability but also undercuts the cogency of religious belief and morality. Cities create their own psychological environments by bringing together in close proximity a wide range of worldviews, cultural and ethnic differences, and personal values. The kind of pluralism that is necessary to eliminate antagonisms among the competing views has the effect of reducing the values of each inhabitant to the lowest common denominator. City life requires the kind of friendliness that allows us to cohabit with the mass ethnic. It is typically assumed that this sort of friendliness must be divested of moral and religious judgments, since it is difficult for our society to see how judgments about truth and (and) morals can escape the charge of social bigotry. And so we settle for the kind of friendliness within which all absolutes perish either for lack of interest or because of the demands of the social etiquette. (David Wells; No Place for Truth, 75)
4- Jesus demonstrated that people are created in God’s image and should be treated impartially. (Jas 2:2-7; see also: Gn 1:27; 9:6)
There were great weaknesses which as Christians we must reject and then work to redress, and I would mention three of these here.
First there is the matter of race, where there were two kinds of abuse. There was slavery based on race, and also racial prejudice as such. Both practices are wrong, and often both were present when Christians had a stronger influence on the consensus than they now have. And yet the church, as the church, did not speak out sufficiently against them. Sadly, Americans indulged in the lie that the black man was not a person and could therefore be treated as a thing. It is remarkable that exactly the same argument was used in the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 to legalize abortion. One hundred and fifty years ago the black man could be enslaved because he was not legally a person; in the last ten years twelve million unborn children have been killed because the Supreme Court decided that they are not persons. (Francis A. Schaeffer; The Great Evangelical Disaster, 115)
The only true and enduring motivation for the ministry of mercy is an experience and a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel. If we know we are sinners saved by grace alone, we will be both open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 58)
I see it now. I see that God was reaching out to Penny in the dorm room in France, and I see that the racism Laura and I talked about grows from the anarchy seed, the seed of the evil one. I could see Satan lashing out on the earth like a madman, setting tribes against each other in Rwanda, whispering in men’s ears in the Congo so that they rape rather than defend their women. Satan is at work in the cults of the Third World, the economic chaos in Argentina, and the corporate-driven greed of American corporate executives.
I lay there under the stars and thought of what a great responsibility it is to be human. I am a human because God made me. I experienced suffering and temptation because mankind chose to follow Satan. God is reaching out to me to rescue me. I am learning to trust Him, learning to live by His precepts that I might be preserved. (Donald Miller; Blue Like Jazz, 101)
Lord Acton, the man who said that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely,” also said, “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.” We far too easily ascribe or withhold honor, respect, or even simple human kindness merely on the basis of profession. How quickly and easily we have forgotten that each human being we encounter is equally deserving of our kindest attention, for each one is made in the image of God. (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 137-38)
Christians, however poor in material possessions they may be, both possess spiritual wealth presently and anticipate greater blessings in the future. It is from this spiritual vantage-point, not the material, that Christians should judge others. Whether believers or unbelievers, people should not be evaluated by Christians according to the standards of the world. (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 91)
It’s important to note that James is not condemning the kind of discernment that comes from a thorough understanding of another’s character. What he is dealing with here is our tendency to be prejudiced toward others because of superficial judgments based on outward appearances. (Charles R. Swindoll, James: Practical and Authentic Living, 67)
James is simply saying that, from God’s perspective, the real issue is the condition of one’s soul. God bases His choices on the heart, not the wallet. (Charles R. Swindoll, James: Practical and Authentic Living, 69)
Note first that it appears that Jesus and Paul deliberately did not use religious leader language common in their day: priest, ruler, rabbi, and master. They did not want to portray Christians in authority as being in a special or privileged class. (Paul R. Ford, Knocking Over the Leadership Ladder, 104)
5- Because Jesus preached that mercy triumphs over judgment we are empowered to fight favoritism and judgment. (Jas 2:13; see also: Prv 21:13; Mt 5:7; 7:1-2; 12:7; 18:21-35; 23:23; Lk 6:37-38; Rom 9:13-33; Eph 2:4-10; 1 Tm 1:13-17; 1 Pt 1:3-5)
Man can never claim God’s mercy, however, by performing deeds of mercy. Mercy is never earned but is always granted when it is sought. If we were able to earn it, mercy would no longer be mercy. We must look to the One who grants it to us. “Mercy does not triumph at the expense of justice; the triumph of mercy is based on the atonement wrought at Calvary.” The Christian knows that in the judgment day, mercy triumphs over justice because of Christ’s meritorious work. (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 86)
When James prohibits favoritism, he would not replace it with a legalistic consistency, as if righteousness consisted merely of giving everyone identical treatment. What James has in mind as the opposite of favoritism is mercy. Mercy is the essence of the royal law. Instead of favoring the rich, believers in Christ are to have mercy on the poor. So mercy is the trait we must learn if we are to be rid of favoritism, and mercy triumphs as a far better way over the judgmentalism described in 2:4. (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 104-05)
If you practice favoritism instead of merciful love, you are denying the very principle of our faith–which is belief in God’s mercy through Christ. If you deny your faith by such actions, then your faith is not genuine (in fact, it is dead, to use the term James will employ in 2:14-26). And if you have no genuine faith, then you can expect only judgment without mercy from God. (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 105)
Now dear Christians, some of you pray night and day to be branches of the true Vine; you pray to be made all over in the image of Christ. If so, you must be like him in giving… “though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor” …Objection 1. “My money is my own.” Answer: Christ might have said, “my blood is my own, my life is my own” …then where should we have been? Objection 2. “The poor are undeserving.” Answer: Christ might have said, “They are wicked rebels…shall I lay down my life for these? I will give to the good angels.” But no, he left the ninety-nine, and came after the lost. He gave his blood for the undeserving. Objection 3. “The poor may abuse it.” Answer: Christ might have said the same; yea, with far greater truth. Christ knew that thousands would trample his blood under their feet; that most would despise it; that many would make it an excuse for sinning more; yet he gave his own blood. Oh, my dear Christians! If you would be like Christ, give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and poor, the thankless and the undeserving. Christ is glorious and happy and so will you be. It is not your money I want, but your happiness. Remember his own word, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (B.B. Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ, 574)
And though we must be extremely patient, eventually, aid must be withdrawn if it is abused.
We see then that mercy ministry operates on the same basis as evangelism. Initially, we offer the gospel to anyone and everyone, as we have opportunity and resources to reach them. “Whosoever will!” We do not wait for them to come to us. But, if eventually a person or a group evidences a rebellious and disrespectful attitude toward the gospel, we withdraw. Continued pressure only hardens them and dishonors the message. (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 97)
The Christian life isn’t about being perfect and deserving God’s favor. It’s about taking a few steps, stumbling, getting back up, and taking a few more steps. Hopefully, over time we won’t stumble as often or fall as hard. But one thing is sure: no matter how pure we may be, we’ll never be deserving of God’s favor. And we’ll never be able to change ourselves. Since that’s the case, we should devote ourselves to the One who loves us anyway and has the power to change us. (Bill Perkins, When Good Men are Tempted, 105)
We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible, not least in the Psalms, God’s coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. It causes people to shout for joy and the trees of the field to clap their hands. In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment. (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 137)
Jesus’ parable reveals the spiritual psychology of the soul: an unmerciful spirit reveals a heart that has not received mercy, but the heart which has been the object of divine mercy will be merciful. This is why the fifth beatitude proclaims, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt 5:7). If we are not merciful we have much to fear, for the beatitude becomes a curse parallel to James’ words. The unmerciful will not receive mercy. A terrifying thought!
A deeper terror in James’ words is this: favoritism is evidence of an unmerciful spirit. The merciful do not ignore the poor in favor of the privileged, but reach out to them. James is saying that a life characterized by discrimination and favoritism indicates a damned soul! This is frightening moral theology from the brother of Jesus. (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 103)
Whether it concerns salvation, judgment, discipline of church leaders or ordinary church members, God’s standards are the same. He deals entirely with the soul, the inner person, and with total impartiality. Peter affirms that divine impartiality, reminding believers that “it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Pt 1:16-17). In other words, if we expect God to be fair and impartial with us, we should be fair and impartial with others, just as we are to forgive others if we expect God to forgive us (Mt 6:14). (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 96)
The OT affirms that God is merciful (Ex 34:5-6) and that people should, therefore, also show mercy to one another (Hos 6:6). This was a hallmark of the teaching of Jesus (Mt 5:7; Lk 6:36). A merciful attitude is one of the evidences that a person truly is alive in Christ. (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 123)
Partiality is inconsistent with loving your neighbor as yourself. Even if it were the only sin a person ever committed, partiality, like all other sins, shatters the entire law of God and makes a person a transgressor, condemned to hell forever. If you come before the judgment seat of God and He sees that you have lived a life that is merciful to others, He will show mercy to you, because your mercy will testify to your saving faith. It will be true in your case that mercy triumphs over judgment. Contrarily, a person who has lived a life devoid of mercy to others will show himself to be without saving faith. (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 117)
In vv 12-13 James brings his thoughts on prejudice to a close with three basic principles for us to apply.
First: Let the Scriptures–not your heritage–be your standard. “So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty” (v 12).
Instead of excusing your prejudices with statements like, “That’s the way I was brought up,” or, “That’s just the way I am,” allow God to change how you think, speak, and act by living according to His Word.
Second: Let love be your law. Some of the neediest people typically receive the worst kinds of prejudiced responses. Before you respond to someone, think first, “How can I love this person? What’s needed to help build this person up?”
Third: Let mercy be your message. “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment (v 13).
A prejudiced person cannot help but be judgmental. But the individual who is motivated by the law of love will exude mercy in their relationships. (Charles R. Swindoll, James: Practical and Authentic Living, 71)
Worship point: See Jesus as the glorious Lord and Savior that He is and you will not only worship, but you will discover you are empowered to relate to people by God’s standards and not the world’s.
One of James’ major themes is that a person’s real faith will be manifest in and through his works, “for just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (2:26). If God looks at our life and sees that we have handled trials and temptations in a godly way, that we received and obeyed His Word, and that we have not lived a life of favoritism, that will be evidence of our salvation. Paul states unequivocally that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph 2:10). (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 116)
If a church is strong in worship, missions, evangelism or youth ministry, that is because it has worked at strengthening those areas. By God’s grace, a church can also become strong in caring for the poor, the refugees, the disabled, the disenfranchised, and the broken as believers intentionally submit to God’s Word. This is a choice God wants us to make individually and corporately as we follow Christ in his love for all. (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 104)
Unlike the Pharisee and the orthodox Jew, the Christian is not a man whose life is governed by the external pressure of a whole series of rules and regulations imposed on him from without. He is governed by the inner compulsion of love. He follows the right way, the way of love to God and love to men, not because any external law compels him to do so nor because any threat of punishment frightens him into doing so, but because the love of Christ within his heart makes him desire to do so. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 70)
According to the narrative of Scripture, the very heart of how we show and distinguish true worship from false worship is apparent in how we respond to the poor, the oppressed, the neglected and the forgotten. As of now, I do not see this theme troubling the waters of worship in the American church. But justice and mercy are not add-ons to worship, nor are they the consequences of worship. Justice and mercy are intrinsic to God and therefore intrinsic to the worship of God. (Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, 37-38)
The last line of Democracy in America reads: “The nations of our time cannot prevent the conditions of men from becoming equal, but it depends upon themselves whether the principle of equality is to lead them to servitude or freedom, to knowledge or barbarism, to prosperity or wretchedness.” (Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, 82)
Spiritual Challenge: Be sensitive to your own personal prejudices and repent from embracing them as a means of self-promotion. Look to Jesus as the author and perfecter of your faith, realizing that He alone is all you need to truly live.
If we disdain the poor and fail to help meet their needs, we disdain God Himself. If our prayers are not being answered, we do well to take inventory of how we have treated those around us who are in financial straits. (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 107)