I hope you have had a Spirit-filled week. God continues to bless us in the midst of this incredibly bizarre season. The challenges we are facing as we battle the coronavirus is exactly what James was talking about when he said we would face various trials and tribulations. Ironically, he also said we should also “consider it joy whenever we face those trails of many kinds!” Hopefully, we have learned the joy we experience comes as a result of the demonstration of God’s consistent faithfulness to us as His children without regard to the current world circumstances. It is His faithfulness that becomes the foundation for the continued growth of OUR faith as well as our source of joy.
James ended chapter one identifying the characteristics of God’s genuine children. Now he is going to draw our attention to this truth: our external displays are a picture of our internal reality. Throughout chapter two, James will use the theme of “partiality” (favoritism) to guide his readers into a deeper meaning of the importance of having a mature faith.
In the first seven verses of chapter two, James draws the attention of his reader to the topic of “denying one’s faith.” Verses eight through thirteen draw attention to the topic of “being obedient to one’s faith” and verses fourteen through twenty-six address the topic of “proving one’s faith.”
Verses 1-4 “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes and a poor man in filthy clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and becomes judges with evil thoughts.”
It is clear James is speaking to Christians because of his opening phrase: “My brothers and sister, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” Remember, he just defined a genuine follower of Christ as those who displays the same characteristics of God – people who are careful before speaking, people who have a genuine heart for the needs and those who have a commitment to personal holiness.
As awkward as this may come across, James is going to challenge his reader to consider if they are denying their faith. Consider this: If we do not demonstrate the same characteristics that children of God SHOULD be demonstrating, aren’t we denying the very God we profess to put our faith in? That is what James is suggesting! Since this letter is being sent to believers, it stands to reason that James is going to challenge his reader to an exercise of self-evaluation to determine if they are indeed demonstrating a depth of faith in God that would result in an intentional demonstration of God’s characteristics in their lives. The example of favoritism is a perfect example to present for consideration.
The next thing James says is: “…suppose a man comes into your meeting…” That appears to be a person who has chosen to join the believers in, let’s say, a worship gathering. So, this person could be another believer who is new to the group. Or it could be a “seeker” wanting to find hear more about Jesus Christ. Either in case, James is suggesting that the way the brothers and sisters respond will say a great deal about their faith or their lack of faith. (We must remember that James has already encouraged them to ask for wisdom, which God will grant generously. Now they have an opportunity to put that wisdom into action. It will be demonstrated by the way they respond to guests!)
James can be blunt at times and this is one example of his bluntness. He doesn’t waste time sharing that to show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and discriminating against the poor man is causing the brothers and sisters to “become judges with evil thoughts.”
It is important to carefully understand what James is saying and what he is not saying. There are times when scripture instructs us to show favoritism to others. Moses shared this instruction: “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:32) Proverbs 24: 21a “Fear the Lord and the king, my son.” Peter said: “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)
These verses identify some examples where it is proper to show respect and honor. I would imagine if an elderly person and a teenager arrived simultaneously to a gathering at church with only one remaining seat it would not be wrong to offer the seat to the elderly person over the teenager.
I would also imagine that if the President of the United States or some other dignitary were to join us for worship, we would do our best to respond to them as a result of the position of honor they held.
That isn’t what James is talking about. He is referencing making judgement about people based simply on outward appearances. How many times have we heard: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Isn’t it amazing how often we judge people by their outward appearance!
Here is what the Lord said to Samuel when he was searching for God’s choice to replace Saul as King. “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. (speaking of Eliab) The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Since scripture also says that we cannot know the thoughts of a man. “The Spirit search all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them?” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11.) It is clear that to show favoritism based on outward appearances is in contrary to God’s character. For scripture also says in Romans 2:11 “For God does not show favoritism.”
Here is the point. If we are going to demonstrate the character of Christ, who does not show favoritism and we allow ourselves to show favoritism, then we are falling short of His glory. When we allow ourselves to demonstrate partiality based on outward appearances, we are allowing the standards of the world to preclude the standards Christ established.
James is clear on this point. If we show this kind of favoritism, we are not demonstrating the faith we claim to possess.
Remember the example of Christ: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sake He become poor, so that you through His poverty might be come rich.” (2 Corinthians) and Philippians 2:6-8 “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!”
James has provided his reader with a great challenge. He is submitting that if we profess to be followers of Christ, we should demonstrate the same characteristics that define the God we serve. Failure to do so is, in essence, denying our faith because our faith should translate into action. If our actions do not support the faith we profess, is that faith genuine?