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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

October 10, 2012

James 2:1-19

  1. Verse 1. James continues to hold the mirror of the word in front of the church by now exposing the practice of favoring the wealthy over the poor. The reality is that there are far more poor people than they are rich. The practice of favoring the rich and powerful was and is a common practice. Oftentimes people favor the rich seeking to find favor from the rich. James does not have in mind the rich who were generous and humble, but the rich who were arrogant and who used their status to oppress rather than liberate. People think that by favoring the rich they might somehow gain favor with the rich. James reminds us that we should treat everyone special and not have favorites. We should give wonderful treatment to all as opposed to preferential treatment to the rich and powerful. God is always just, and His judgments are always without partiality. God’s Word declares that each and every person without exception is a sinner, deserving of eternal judgment (Romans 3:9-19, 23). Men are not saved on the basis of race (contrary to Jewish thought), nor on the basis of wealth or position, nor on the basis of their good works. Men are saved on the basis of God’s sovereign choice, which has nothing to do with man’s efforts. Men are saved on the basis of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, in the sinner’s place. Since God shows no partiality, He insists that we be like Him in this regard. Favoritism, then, is incompatible with faith in Jesus Christ.

  2. Verses 2-4. James uses a story to bring home the point, but the story is probably an accurate account of what could have easily occurred in one of the fellowships. James starts his scenario with the entrance of two men. One man is obviously wealthy and other obviously poor. One is dressed well and the other is dressed poorly. James describes the two men in such a way that the wealthy man’s clothes spoke of his riches, while the poor man’s clothes spoke of his lack of material wealth. Upon entrance the rich man was given a seat of honor, while the poor man was given the option of either standing or sitting on the floor. James declares that this is favoring the rich over the poor. James declares that when people show that kind of favoritism their thoughts are evil, because they have made a decision about the worth of someone based on their material wealth. This is how the world thinks and operates, but this is not how the church operates.

  3. Verses 5-7. James shares with his readers that when people show this type of favoritism towards the rich they are actually favoring those who are normally poor in faith, while mistreating those that are normally rich in faith. James points out that those who are persecuting the church are those that have wealth and worldly power. This is not an indictment on those who have money, but an indictment on those who think just because someone is wealthy that they are better than those who are not. Remember that James is writing to Jewish Christians who are dispersed among the nations. They have begun to experience persecution. Some of their poverty was the direct result of their generosity (see Acts 2:44-46; 4:32-37), and some was the result of persecution because of following Christ (see Hebrews 10:32-34). The rich were quick to drag the saints into court when they wanted to sue them. They could afford the legal costs and could also influence the outcome of the trial. As a rule, the rich were not a friend to the saints; they were their enemy. Why, then, would anyone show favoritism to their opponents? Rather than “biting the hand that fed them,” they were “feeding the hand of those who were biting them.” And if this personal insult and injury were not enough, the rich were also those who were blaspheming the very name of our Lord because they had learned to trust in their wealth and not the Lord. (compare Psalm 73:1-14, especially verses 8-9). Favoring the rich is contrary to all good reason especially the rich who are not friends to the poor.

  4. Verses 8-11. The greatest commandment for God’s people is “love their neighbors as themselves”. Their neighbors included the wealthy and the poor (see Luke 10:29-37). The “as” means that we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We must love our neighbors with the same level of concern and care that we have for ourselves. But in addition to meaning that we must love our neighbors and ourselves equally, James insists that we must love each of our neighbors equally, not treating one neighbor better than another. The greatest commandment calls for equality. Showing partiality violates the principle of “equal treatment under the law.” To show partiality to the rich and to discriminate against the poor is to break God’s law. And to break God’s law in this one matter is to become a violator of the whole law. These Jews to whom James wrote were no doubt still diligent in keeping other parts of the law, but James says that keeping law is of no value if the law is broken in the matter of dealing equally with our neighbors. Thus, we may not be guilty of breaking the law by committing adultery, but if we murder, then we are lawbreakers anyway. To break the law at one point is to break the whole law. Those who show partiality to others are law-breakers.

  5. Verses 12-13. Those who show favoritism make judgments about others based upon mere appearances (the bright and shining clothing of the rich man as opposed to the filthy clothing of the poor man). Those who discriminate become judges with impure motives (verse 4). Those who judge are also those who will be judged. There is a day of judgment for the saints (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). If men have not shown mercy to those in need, then they should not expect God to be merciful to them in their day of judgment. Matt 7:1-2, 18:21-25.

  6. Verses 14-17. In the previous section James highlighted a very overt way of dishonoring Christ by showing favoritism to the rich over the poor. Now James is going to demonstrate a more subtle way we break the commands of God to love our neighbor. The issue James picks up is the issue of lacking compassion for the poor. James first condemned the church for favoring those who need no favors, now he condemns the church for ignoring the people who need the most attention. If there is any group that needed special treatment it was the poor. For James this is a matter of true faith. One cannot declare and confess how great their faith is and have no desire to assist the poor. This is a person who is just pretending to be in the faith. Their faith is actually dead. Ignoring the poor in the church is especially cruel and deeply hypocritical. In some ways it is worse than the blatant discrimination of verses 2 and 3. The wickedness of verses 15-17 is couched in caring terms that seem on the outside to show concern, but really are empty just like the person’s faith.

  7. Verses 18-19. Faith is not faith without true fruit. The true fruit of faith is not busyness, but being a blessing to those in need. We think that because we are busy we are actually demonstrating a saving faith, but the reality is a saving faith will always show itself by works of kindness and generosity. Faith is not just believing, but it is also becoming more like Christ. If you are really believing, than you are really becoming like Christ in action. If you are not becoming like Christ in action you probably don’t have a saving faith. True faith in Christ turns into true actions of Christ. And the true actions of Christ are displayed in true acts of love towards your neighbor. Just believing is not good enough, because the demons believe. If you just believe and you don’t become more like Christ you are no different than satan and his demons.

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