James 2 - Part 1 Jim Erwin
January 21, 2018
The new year is rolling right along and we’re beginning our third week in the book of James. So how are you coming along with your memory verses? Who has last week’s verse memorized? Let’s say it together-James 1:21-22. What about the week before? Sort of have to dig deep in the memory banks. Let’s say it together-James 1:12. Those are some great verses to have in mind-and that’s the key to this. We’re not trying to memorize verses just for the sake of memorizing them. The goal is to be thinking and reflecting on these verses throughout the week-to have them at the forefront of our minds, to say them to ourselves every day and let them sink into our hearts-so memorizing is a great way to let that happen. I like what it says in Psalm 119:10-11-that’s our goal for 2018 here at Wellspring-to be a church that is storing up God’s Word in our hearts. I encourage you that if you haven’t had a chance to memorize either of the first two verses, if you’ve been gone or too busy, no worries-work on the verse for this week. You’ll see it in your bulletin-but before we say it together I want us to encounter it in the text and see how it summarizes what James has to say to us this morning. Open up your Bibles to James 2.
As you’re doing that I want to ask if anyone has ever spilled something and gotten a stain on their clothes. Some of us might be bigger spillers than others and more prone to getting stains. But the worst is when you get a stain on your favorite shirt or pants. Has anybody done that? I had one of my favorite shirts-a blue and white checkered button-down shirt that fit perfectly-the length, the sleeves, the neck, everything was perfect. And one time I pulled it out of the dryer and it had pink stains on it! I thought what is this-I wasn’t frosting a cake or using pink paint or letting pink crayons go through the wash-why the pink stains? It’s one of the great mysteries of our house-and I was so upset-my favorite shirt was ruined, it was stained. But here’s reality-I still sometimes wear my stained shirt. It’s too good not to, especially if it’s under a sweater you can’t even tell it’s stained-mostly. Now Monica tells me to get rid of it-but in my opinion it’s still a great shirt, just a little pink. I thought about wearing it today so you could see it, but the reason I bring up wearing my stained shirt is that we can be tempted to be living with the world’s stain on our hearts. Just as we might be tempted to put up with some stains on our favorite clothes, so we can also put up with some stains in our lives, to live as if the world’s influence doesn’t matter or pretend the stains aren’t there-and of course James says we can’t do that. Take a look at how he phrases this at the end of chapter 1 because it will lead us into his main point in chapter 2. James 1:26-This is the classic practice what you preach idea. James is saying you can’t think you’re one thing when your mouth is speaking completely different-whether it’s speaking crudely or tearing people down or constantly gossiping. James is saying that your walk has to match your talk-and that’s his point in the next verse-James 1:27. What he means is that you’re someone who is actively reaching out to those in need-so orphans and widows are perfect examples of people in need-and you’re not letting your heart be stained by the world. You’re not living the way the world lives or acting the way everybody else acts. Instead you’re looking at things from God’s perspective. You’re saying the world is here and God is here and I want to see things the way He does, I want to value the things He values, I want to treat people the way He treats people. James says true religion is someone who’s not content to think like the world; that even though you’re bombarded with the world’s messages all week from TV, social media, advertising, the internet or the people around you, it doesn’t leave a stain on your heart. You’re someone who remains unstained, or if you have the NIV-unpolluted. Your life isn’t influenced by the world’s thinking; you’re not succumbing to the world’s values. It means that just like you ought to be unwilling to wear stained clothes, you’re unwilling to have a stained heart. And I believe that as we transition into chapter 2 we discover one of the easiest ways the world tries to stain our hearts-James 2:1-4. So what James is talking about is the sin of partiality, or as it’s more commonly known, favoritism.
I want you to think about that word favoritism. It’s literally defined as someone who doesn’t receive the face of someone. You look at the appearance, the externals, what’s on the surface or what’s been presented and you say No thanks, not interested, you don’t fit with us or you’re not welcome here. You don’t receive the face of the person in front of you because you don’t like what you see upon an initial inspection. Favoritism says I like this kind of person, but not that kind of person so you turn them away. To state the obvious, partiality is being partial to certain types of people, but not having room for others. In a basic understanding favoritism is playing favorites. Just think about your life for a minute-who hasn’t received the cold shoulder of favoritism? It happens at school, in sports, in social circles, at work, around town. I felt like there was favoritism going on at my elementary school recess when we were picking teams for kickball. If the kids that were picking teams were selecting us on the basis of our kickball skills, I felt that I was very adequate-I had developed a nice curve in my pitch. I would have been a valuable asset to the team. But how do kids pick teams at recess? Based upon their favorites-not necessarily who’s good. Kids pick their friends-and this is only just beginning at recess. All throughout life, the world excels at favoritism-whether it’s in a job interview where even though you were totally qualified you got overlooked because the boss liked the other guy and knew him better than you. Or you didn’t get a lot of playing time in the game because the coach always played his son instead or the teacher never called on you because she had her favorites in class. Or because you didn’t look or dress a certain way you weren’t accepted by the popular crowd. The world is never in short supply of favoritism. We see it all around us every day, the question is what about the church? Does the sin of favoritism thrive within the body of Christ? According to James, one of the world’s big stains is favoritism-that’s why he’s brought it up. Is favoritism staining the lives of those who claim to follow Christ? That’s what we have to wrestle with.
So here at the start of chapter 2, James is painting a scenario in which a wealthy, well-connected, well-dressed person decides to visit a church. Now what if that happened here. Let’s put ourselves into this scenario. Imagine if a famous athlete or movie star came to Mt. Pleasant and decided to visit Wellspring. Take Peyton Manning for example-he’s retired from the NFL so other than his Nationwide commercials he seems like he’s got a lot of time on his hands. What if Peyton Manning comes to Mt Pleasant and decides to attend our church some Sunday? How would we react to that? Would we just be all star struck and impressed, everybody wanting to shake his hand and talk with him and make him feel welcome? I’m sure it would all be the buzz around here that morning. But what if on the same Sunday a random, normal visitor shows up or even a poor guy wearing shabby clothes-are we going to even give him the time of day? He might easily come in and out of service without anyone saying a word to him because we’re so enamored with Peyton Manning. That’s the scenario James is describing-being so amazed with the wealthy, well-to-do person that we lose sight of everything else. And yet, what is it we should be amazed at? What is it that should impress us on a Sunday morning? Not the fact that some amazing person has showed up, but the fact that we are here together as the body of Christ worshipping an amazing God!
So Point 1: What do we see? The true glory of Christ or the fleeting glory of social status? Look back at verse 1 because James has inserted a very important phrase that we might quickly brush past if we’re not careful. This frames his entire point-verses 1. Those four words were no accident. James wants us to understand the massive difference of these two things we’re looking at. It’s easy to be impressed with the glitz and glamor of the world. It’s easy to be swayed and lured in by wealth and riches and social standing. We’re drawn to fame and fortune-whether it’s an athlete, a movie star, a musician or even a well-to-do person of good social status from Mt. Pleasant. We can easily find ourselves amazed by the glory of someone’s success and worldly wealth-and yet James is telling us to be amazed by the fact that we are worshipping our great and glorious Savior Jesus. I like how one Bible commentator has phrased this verse-Do not try to combine faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with worship of men’s social status. And yet, how often do we wrongly do that and worship social status? Or our hearts long to be in the popular crowd or hang around the people that are. We think if we can be friends with someone like that, maybe we’ll become that too. Or we fool ourselves into thinking some wealthy, well-to-do person will be a good advocate for Christ-that this person can use their popularity or social status as a platform-as if God needs the popular people on His side. But this commentator goes on to say that Jesus is the Glorious One and a believer ought to be the last person impressed by the sham glory of social status. How true is that? The sham glory of social status. I think of Peter, James and John on the mountain of transfiguration seeing the brilliantly shining glory of Jesus-or how James, the author of this book, saw the glory of the resurrected Jesus. Or even us, having read God’s Word can hold to the truth of John 1:14; 17:24. The eyes of our hearts ought to be amazed by the glory of Jesus our Savior-that the eternal second person of the Trinity came down to this earth, took on human flesh, and gave up His life to save us. Our hearts ought to see the glory of His resurrection and that He’s gone into heaven to prepare a place for us and is one day coming back so that we can dwell with Him forever. If you’re a believer and you’ve put your trust in Christ then by faith, you have caught a glimpse of the most incredible, amazing, glorious person in all the universe and you ought not be swayed by anybody else- Point 1: What do we see? The true glory of Christ or the fleeting glory of social status. I like what the Puritan John Owen said-Glory, 7. The fleeting glory of social status and worldly wealth ought to be like that. It shouldn’t grip our hearts or cause favoritism to flourish in our lives. We need to see those things as painted beauty like Owen has said-because they don’t last, riches and social status dry up and chip away-just like old paint-but the glory of Christ is something deep and permanent and lasting-and He’s who our hearts must worship. I like how John Piper prays for this-Savoring, 32.
And that last part is really important because it continues the thread of thinking that James wants us to remember. If we are going to be an echo of Jesus in the world, favoritism has to be eliminated from our thinking. And here’s why-look at verse 5. That’s going to be our memory verse for this week because that’s the humbling truth we can’t forget. God didn’t go around and pick the best and the brightest in the world to be His followers. Jesus didn’t show up and go to the universities and colleges in Jerusalem and select the most aspiring and brilliant young men with promising careers, He didn’t pinpoint the popular people of his day or recruit the rich an famous. Instead He chose ordinary fishermen and corrupt tax-collectors. How opposite is that? But it proves the point James is making-verse 5. This is what Paul was pointing out to the Corinthians who were tempted to think of themselves as smart, well-connected, successful people in this great city of Corinth- 1 Corinthians 1:26-30. And that’s the core message of the gospel that we need to understand about ourselves. We did not earn our way to God or garner favor with Him because of our accomplishments or what we had done. It’s the exact reverse-we had rebelled against God and disobeyed Him, we’d gone our own way and had nothing to offer Him and yet God chose to reach out to us in our emptiness and spiritual poverty. He lavished His grace upon us and made us rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom. Again, talk about something glorious-to become heirs of God’s kingdom. All the money and wealth and social status in the world can’t even come close to that. What did Jesus say-Mark 8:36. Not one bit. Not even becoming the CEO of a company that overtakes the whole world can earn you any favor with God. So Point 2: Where do we stand? We’re all equally poor before God. That’s the core piece of truth to keep in mind when struggling with this issue of favoritism. In God’s sight, you and I are no better than anybody else. Our choices, our actions, our good deeds haven’t saved us or given us a leg up. Not one bit. We have no room to boast-At least I’m better than that guy. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Without Jesus we’re all helpless. We’re all equally poor and lost. Listen to what David Platt says in his commentary on James in the bulletin-David Platt, p 32:
When we look at a man, we look at the outward appearance-the car he drives, the clothes he wears, the house he lives in, the lifestyle he leads–and we often honor him based on these things. But Scripture turns all of that upside down and tells us to look at men through the lens of the grace of God in Christ. This is key in terms of how we view and treat others. We ought to see everyone through the eyes of Christ. We ought to look at Christians around us, regardless of their wealth or socioeconomic status as those who are like us. We also need to see people around us who are not Christians as those whom Christ created, as those whom He loves, as those He desires to know Him. Let’s put aside the standards of this world and see one another through the eyes of the Word, in relation to Christ.
That’s the key point James is making in this passage. Don’t evaluate people on the basis of appearances or accomplishments or success. That may be the world’s standard but that’s not the way God sees people. And yet it’s an easy trap for us to fall into.
Do you remember back in the Old Testament when Samuel went to anoint Israel’s future king? He came to Jesse’s family in Bethlehem and he didn’t evaluate the boys based on what cars they drove-but he did evaluate them on who looked the most regal and kingly-1 Samuel 16:6. Because Samuel is thinking, Here’s the first-born son, he’s the oldest, the tallest, the most mature-look at this guy, he has to be the next king! And I’m sure we would have concluded the same thing. But what was God’s response-1 Samuel 16:7. This is saying that God looks past all those things we normally do. While we’re impressed with the outside, God’s interested in what’s happening on the inside. How often have you or I neglected looking at someone’s heart and only been interested in appearances and looks? How often have we wrongly judged someone according to the externals, like their accolades or success or wealth or social status, and overlooked their internal spiritual state. It’s easy to think that the rich have made better choices in life and are more capable and accomplished people-that’s why they’re rich-while the poor have gotten what they’ve deserved because they’re lazy and don’t work hard. We think that-and yet go back to verse 4. I’ll be the first to admit, that’s a convicting verse because I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I’ve made myself a judge towards other people-and yet, I realize how completely counter that runs to God’s way of thinking because the gospel is the exact opposite of favoritism. The bottom line is that we had no favor with God. As we’ve said, He didn’t play favorites. He didn’t choose us because of anything we could offer Him. Instead look at how the gospel is described in 2 Corinthians 8:9. Not only are we all equally poor at the foot of the cross, but Jesus Himself came to this earth, leaving heaven behind, so that He could become poor for us. He in no way shows favoritism or rejects the poor because He takes on our poverty so that we might become rich in His mercy; rich in His grace and salvation. This is the truth we’re called to believe; this is where it begins. Before you can battle this issue of favoritism, you have to humbly come before God and realize your own spiritual poverty; realize that you are poor and have nothing to offer and that God has graciously not played favorites, but reached out to you and provided the way of salvation through Jesus. What Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians is nearly identical to what James is saying-verse 5. You need to ask yourself if you’re someone who’s put your faith in Jesus and become an heir to the kingdom. And if you have that moves you out of the realm of judgement and favoritism and moves you into the realm of mercy-because God’s kingdom is all about mercy and reaching out to those in need.
Jump down to verses 8-9. James is saying you can’t think that you’re being a loving and kind person if you’re still maintaining partiality and favoritism. Love removes those things. Now you might try to convince yourself that you’re being loving to the people who are like you, loving to your friends, loving to the people who love you back-but the problem is that we gravitate towards those people. We have no problem honoring and loving the people who benefit us or bless us or people we see eye to eye with-favoritism comes into play when it’s relating to people who are different from us, whether it’s a socio-economic difference like the passage is describing or cultural differences or differences in interests or backgrounds or walks of life. Will we show a genuine love to those who are different from us that doesn’t show partiality? We might try to ignore this sin and think of it as a minor issue-The world shows favoritism all the time, what’s the big deal? But James is saying it is a big deal. How we treat other people matters-verses 10-13. James is saying that real faith, a faith that works, is not just revealed by avoiding the big sins of murder and adultery-Well, at least I haven’t killed anybody! But real faith is revealed in how we treat people. And that’s the third question this passage is forcing us to ask-Point 3: What do our lives reveal? I judge you or I show you the same mercy God’s shown me? That’s what this funnels down to-will you be someone with a critical spirit of judgement towards others, highlighting differences and believing that the way you live is better, which inevitably leads to favoritism? Or will you be someone of mercy and grace towards others, not always insisting they fit into your mold or do things the way you think they should? This closing phrase-mercy triumphs over judgement-is the way to defeat favoritism because as we’ve said judgement lies at the heart of favoritism. You’re judging one person as more worthy or better than another-and the Lord is saying That’s not how I’ve dealt with you, so don’t you deal that way with others.
Aren’t you glad that mercy triumphs over judgement? Aren’t you so thankful that’s how God has operated in your life-because what would happen if it was the other way around-if judgement triumphs over mercy? Then we’d be in real trouble! It’s not hard to think of things we’ve done that deserve God’s judgement. I’m sure you don’t have to dig too far in your memory banks to recall ways that you’ve let God down and disobeyed Him. And when those things come to mind the reality of God’s mercy is what you need most. What if God said to us-I’d love to show you mercy for this mistake in your life, but it just doesn’t win out, My mercy is too weak so judgment triumphs. Sorry about that, you’ll have to remain condemned in your sin. We would have no hope if that was the case-but that’s not how God works. What does it say in Lamentations 3:22? Talk about the triumph of mercy. It never runs out. Therefore, God wants us to abound in that same kind of mercy to others. He wants our lives to be a place where mercy triumphs, and not judgment. He wants us to remember again and again how much He has given us so that we can be a reflection of Him as we give to others. That might mean reaching out to that kid at school who sits by himself at lunch. What if instead of judging him as weird like all your classmates do, you go up and talk with him and be a friend? Or maybe that’s connecting with the loner at work who no one likes, or it means reaching out to that mean boss everyone tries to avoid and gossip about. Maybe that means not just talking to your friends here at church, but intentionally looking for new people to connect with, people you don’t know or who are different from you. There’s all sorts of ways to let mercy triumph over judgement and be someone who eliminates favoritism. Who is God calling you to reach out to? That’s at the heart of what Jesus described in Luke 14:12-14 NIV. Talk about the opposite of favoritism. Jesus is suggesting to throw a party where you don’t invite your friends or family, but instead invite those you normally wouldn’t who are different from you, less fortunate than you and probably aren’t going to invite you back. But this underscores the point that we normally reach out to those who benefit us the most. But-what if you did this? That instead of trying to connect with people that will bless and benefit you, what if you tried to connect with people that you can bless and benefit? What if the next time you had people over or met up with someone for coffee or lunch it was someone you could encourage or bless, instead of just gathering with all your old friends that you normally do? I think the reason Jesus is describing a party like this is because this is precisely the picture of eternity, this is what heaven looks like-because it’s a party where the Lord Himself invited all of us who were poor, blind and crippled in our sins so that we could be forgiven, restored, and share in His abundant blessings. Back to James 2:5. That is the heart of the gospel and that is our great hope-to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom of God!