James Chapter 2

1-8 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? 8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF," you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, "DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY," also said, "DO NOT COMMIT MURDER." Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

What James is saying here is that treating people differently based on whether they are rich or poor is a sin.

This distinction between rich and poor is not just financial. It also applies to good looks, intelligence, fame, influence, culture, personality and power too, and everything else that is highly esteemed in the eyes of man.

May be this sin of partiality is not very obvious. So let me thrown in a few examples…

At work, may be you like to smile broadly at the pretty secretary as you walk past her. But do you smile equally broadly at that fat, middle-aged janitor woman when you walk past her? If not, why not?

When the boss comes into your office, perhaps you stop what you are doing and greet him. If so, do you also do that when this new employee, who has no importance, comes in? Or do you continue to look at your monitor as he talks to you?

Or suppose you are quite good at a sport. Do you play equally joyfully with someone inferior to you in that sport as with someone superior to you?

Partiality is a deep rooted sin and we need to consciously attempt to remove it.

Partiality is not merely a minor sin, but just as bad as any other sin, and therefore needs to be taken seriously.

Now think about that! If you committed murder this morning, how would you be feeling right now?

To make this real to you, here is the scenario. Suppose this guy was bothering you, on and on, and finally you had enough. So you take a knife and stick it into him and say, "That’s the end of him." Then you wipe the blade off your jeans and look at the clock and say, "Oh, time to go to the church service." You hop into your car and drive to the church.

You wouldn’t do that, would you?

Why not? Only because you’re grieved over the great crime you’ve just committed.

Or if you committed adultery with someone else’s wife last night, how would you be feeling right now?

No, I’m not going to lay out the scenario for this one!

Would you be feeling the same way if were partial to someone this morning? If not, then you need to mediate and internalize what James is saying – partiality is just a grievous as murder and adultery.

We sometimes offend God big time, and we don’t even know it. We may have thought that partiality is not so offensive to God, but I hope that you now see that it is.

In any church, there are the important people and the ordinary people. Typically, but not always, the important people hobnob with the important people. The others want to hobnob with the important people but have to make do associating with the not-so-important ones. Which category do you belong to?

Do you just invite the important people of the church, or do you invite the ordinary people?

Do you avoid hanging out with the people who have personal issues? May be they dig their nose in public, or they pee in your toilet standing up. You can’t have pee all over your toilet, so no inviting Mr. Smith over anymore, right? But it’s okay to invite Mr. Davidson, the elder’s son, even though he backbites about all his relatives? And yes, Mr. Peterson is hilarious so we must invite him. And Mr. Parker, he’s smart – if you have him over, you are sure to have a very enlightening conversation.

Did Jesus have an attitude like that?

What about your attitude to the lonely singles? In Lk 14:12-14, Jesus said that we should invite the lame and dumb and blind and the beggars.

Lk 14:12-14 12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. 13 "But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Godliness is not a matter of attending a church, or having an important position in a church. That is, you are not godly just because you regularly attend a church meeting. And you don’t become godlier just because you have become a deacon or elder or pastor or some other leader in some church. Godliness is about valuing what God values, and detesting what God detests.

For example, in God’s eyes, all that is highly esteemed by man is detestable in the sight of God. If you detest the things that man values highly then you are godly.

Lk 16:15 And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God."

So a godly man will have the same value as God and detest what is highly esteemed among men.

Are you doing something that God detests – like giving preference to people because they have quality that is highly esteemed by man?

It is easy for you to find out if you are like that.

To find the truth about yourself in this matter ask yourself who you invite over to our house for dinner, and why you do it.

Do you invite people over because you want fellowship or because you want to cultivate a friendship with an important person? Or do you invite them over because you sense that they are lonely and need a friend, and you can be that friend and bless them?

What I’ve mentioned so far is concerning partiality in general. We can also consider partiality in the context of a trial.

In the context of a trial, there are two sides. If you like, think of it as a boxing match. Usually, there is the important guy and the good guy. The good guy is the guy who is right. God is on his side. The important guy is the guy who is wrong but thinks he has enough support and influence to crush the good guy. The important guy is the guy who is important to you – your friend, your spouse, your boss, etc.

So whose side will you be on?

Wife or neighbor? Mother or mother-in-law? Boss or co-worker? Your child or someone else’s child? Whose side will you take when there is a disagreement?

Most people will side the important guy. I must be loyal – they say. But that is a big mistake. James points out that such partiality is a sin. Siding with the important guy is a big mistake because God is on the side of the good guy.

Don’t be misguided about loyalty. Our loyalty is first towards God, not to our relative or friend or brother.

Don’t be on the side that has the majority of human support. Be on the side that God is supporting. In the Day of Judgment, when God deals with the situation, you want to be found on God’s side.

12-13 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

These next two verses are not really important, and so we can skip them and move to the next passage.

Ahem. You didn’t really buy that, did you? If you did, shame on you!

‘So speak and so act’ – this is an extremely broad command; it covers everything you say and everything you do! Therefore, it is very important to understand.

Now, whenever you see a ‘law’ mentioned in Scripture you need to pay extra attention because it is important.

What then is ‘the law of liberty’?

You see, when you do something wrong, God has to decide what to do about it. Should He let you go, or should He give you a tight smack? That is, should He deal with you in mercy or in judgment?

The law of liberty gives God the freedom to judge whoever He wants and to not judge whoever He wants.

God has chosen to be merciful to (and not judge) those who are merciful – mercy triumphs over judgment.

On the other hand, God will judge (and show no mercy) to those who are merciless.

What you see here is an important aspect of the nature God, and understanding this is critical to your own happiness and peace. I’ve seen people who live a miserable life because they don’t have an understanding of this aspect of God’s nature.

So during your trial, don’t judge those who have hurt you. Instead, if you have a chance to hurt them don’t take that chance, but let them go! In letting them go, you give God the liberty to mitigate any complications that arose due to your foolishness during the trial.

So here’s an example: suppose somebody is bothering you. This person may be in your place or work, or in your church, or in your circle of friends. For whatever reason, you don’t like this guy. He’s tried to mess with you. He’s tried to put you down. He ignores your attempts at friendship. He’s tried to speak evil about you behind your back and you’ve found out. So you, sharpshooter that you are, have mentally, consciously or unconsciously, got your gun out, and you are trying to get him in your sights. He’s moving all the time and you’re finding it difficult to nail the guy.

Then one day, he stands still, and bingo, you’ve got him in your sights. That is, he does something wrong and messes up. What are you going to do?

You can pull the trigger and take him out. That is, you can make an issue of the wrong that he did. You can tell everyone who knows him how he messed up. You can destroy his reputation. And oh, how sweet is that? Finally, the debt for all that bothering is paid.

Or you can show him mercy.

James says to show him mercy. Let him go. Don’t say a word about what he did to anyone. Let God deal with him. You’re not qualified because you have a log in your eye (i.e. he’s been bothering you).

When you let him go, you free God’s hand to let you go when you mess up. We all mess up, one day or the other. The secret of surviving a mess up is to let others go when they mess up.

How did James learn this? Well, from the style of his letter, James appears to be a very direct person – someone like me. And he must have been very difficult to live with because he must have been constantly making judgments about those around him. And God must have made his life miserable for speaking and acting as if he would not be judged by the law of liberty. And then he must have discovered this law.

Ps 86:15 But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.

Lk 6:36-37 "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned."

Prov 11:17 The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm.

Mt 5:7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."

The above verses reinforce what James says, and point out the value of being merciful.

Ps 86:15 tells us that God is merciful. Lk 6:36-37 tells us that we need to be merciful just as God is merciful. Pr 11:17 tells us that in doing so we bless ourselves. Mt 5:7 tells us why being merciful to others is a blessing to us – because we then receive mercy.

Now I’d told you this, and you understand it, and perhaps even believe it. But that doesn’t mean that you’re done. Unless you act upon it, your faith is useless. That’s what James says next.

14-26 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Faith saves only if it leads to action. If intellectual belief is not accompanied by actions aligned with the belief, then it cannot save you. The proof that the faith is real is the evidence of the works that arise out of the faith.

Even the demons believe that all the members of the godhead are united, and it scares them because they know that they can’t overcome a united godhead, but it doesn’t change their behavior. This proves that theirs is an intellectual belief that is not accompanied by works. Thus, their faith does not save them.

On the other hand, Abraham and Rahab did what God said, and that showed that they really believed God, and that was what justified them before God. God evaluates people based on how they behave, and not merely on what they know.

In a conflict or trial have you ever thought that the other person is more spiritual than you are? Chances are that we assume that we are more spiritual than the other person. But are we really? To find out, don’t look at what you believe but at how you behave in the conflict.

In the context of a trial, what you know is not as important as how you use what you know. For example, if you understand who is right and who is wrong and you take the side of the wrong person, just because he is more important or rich or influential, or with the majority, then you just show that you don’t believe that there exists a God who stands with the righteous and against the wicked. Your actions indicate what you really believe. So don’t be foolish into thinking that you believe something just because you speak it. To find out what you believe look at how you react in a trial.

Abraham is called a friend of God in Jas 2:23. Not only that, in 2 Chron 20:7 Abraham is called a friend of God forever.

2 Chron 20:7 Did You not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and give it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?"

That’s amazing!

Now it’s one thing to say that God is your friend, but it is quite another thing to say that you are God’s friend. God is a friend to many, but there are very few people who God can call as His friend.

Today, people sing a song saying that they are friends of God. Just singing such a song doesn’t really make you a friend of God. Further, you can’t appoint yourself as a friend of God; rather, God has to make that claim, saying that you are His friend. To be a friend of God you need to be certain type of person.

So what does it take to become a friend of God? And how can you know if God has called you His friend?

The friends of Jesus do what He commands them.

Jn 15:14-15 14 "You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing ; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you."

Further, per John 15:15, here is a test of whether God calls you His friend – God makes known to you the things on His mind. For example, when God wanted to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, He made it known to Abraham.

Gen 18:17 The LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,"

Friendship and enmity are opposites – if you are a person’s friend then you can’t be his enemy, and vice versa. In Jas 4:4 we read that we are enemies of God if we are friends of the world. In Phil 3:18-19 we read that we are enemies of the cross of Christ if we set our mind on earthly things.

Jas 4:4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Phil 3:18-19 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.

To be a friend of the world is to highly esteem what the world esteems and to set our mind on acquiring them. If our mind is set on acquiring earthly things, yes, even if our mind just wishes to have more earthly things – things like money, power, fame, luxury – and we give respect to people because they have money, power, fame, popularity or good looks, then we are not friends of God; we actually are enemies of God!

Abraham set his mind on pleasing God and on highly esteeming what God highly esteem (which was faith in His word) at the expense of becoming rich. That is why he was called a friend of God.

If you read beginning at Genesis Chapter 14, you’ll see something interesting…

A bunch of kings declared war on Sodom on Gomorrah and captured people and loot from there. The kings of Sodom and Gomorrah however escaped with their lives. Among the captured were Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family. When Abraham heard about it he took his men and recaptured everything back. When Abraham came back, the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah met him and said it was okay if Abraham kept all the valuables – they just wanted their people back.

Now what would you do if you were in Abraham’s place? Would you have said, "Wow! I can keep all this stuff; it’s going to make me very rich. Even the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah are okay with that. Who would have imagined that they, of all people, would be okay with that – it must be the hand of God to allow them to be okay with that?"

Abraham didn’t think that way. He was a man of discernment. He didn’t want to take anything from a contaminated source. His mind was not set on earthly things. Abraham was willing to be on God’s side even if it meant fewer riches. He wanted God to make him rich. That’s what made him a friend of God.

God will put these kinds of situations before you and me too, to test us, and to show whether our minds are set on earthly things. If you want to be a friend of God then you have to pass these tests.

Then God told Abraham that he would have a great reward. Abraham pointed out that the reward would be pointless because he had no children to pass it on to. Then God promised Abraham that he would have countless descendants. Even when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham reasoned that God would raise Isaac up from the dead even though no one had ever been raised up from the dead before. Abraham believed God. Abraham was content to believe God even when it made no sense.

In both these cases, Abraham believed, and then acted upon his belief.

It is that kind of faith that is required in a trial – a faith to see God’s hand in the trial, and a faith that the trial will work for your good, and a faith that refuses to receive a blessing unless it is from God.

Similarly, Rahab understood that the people of Jericho were not the people of God, and that the Jews were the people of God. The question was: what would she do about it? Rahab had to decide whose side to be on – the side on whose side God was on, or the side of those who were close to her. She wisely chose God. She had no guarantee that they would honor their promise to her if they captured Jericho. She was content to leave it in the hands of God.

Now would you have done that?

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