James 2:8-9 “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
James was writing to people who really cared about the Law. They were very interested in fulfilling it and obeying it. However, like most of us, they had picked out parts of it to follow and left other parts out. Loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is easy when we’re the ones picking out who our neighbors are. However, James is reminding us that our “neighbors” are literally those people with whom we come into contact, not just the people with whom we want to be friends. Loving our neighbors as ourselves means loving others and not showing favoritism to some over others, even when we like some more than others. The Law makes no distinctions and James is pointing out that neither should we.
Study/Meditation: Proverbs 28:21 very simply says, “To show partiality is not good.” Why is this so? What negative impact does showing partiality have on displaying God’s love to others?
*Father, forgive me for showing partiality to some over others. Help me to love with Your love and to give mercy as You give mercy. Amen.
James 2:6-7 “But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?”
There are two things being dealt with in these verses. James is still correcting the behavior of those in the synagogue who were giving preferential treatment to the wealthy over the poor based solely on their standing within the community. He is reminding the recipients of this letter that making value judgments on a person’s place in the Kingdom, especially those value judgments based on money or earthly things, is wrong. God is the only rightful judge and respecter of persons, and He does so because He can see a person’s heart. God is not interested in wealth, so neither should we be. However, James is also dealing with something more figurative. He is not saying that the rich are horrible and should be shunned either, simply because they are wealthy. He is again pointing to what emphasis all of us should place on value, and that is certainly not on earthly things. Those who find their place within the confines of worldly goods are not looking to the only true Source of joy and completeness, and that is our Lord. In so doing, they blaspheme God’s name and His place. James is reminding us of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”
Study/Meditation: Why do you think it is so important to be “poor in spirit”? What things in your life might keep you from maintaining this correct perspective?
*Father, please forgive me for the times when I try to find happiness and contentment in this world rather than in You. Help me to always look to You for the joy that only You can give. Amen.
James 2:5 “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?”
Not a day should pass where we don’t thank God that His standards for choosing His children are in no way similar to those we impart on others. We choose just about everything based on whether or not it is pleasing to us—our cars, our homes, our clothes, our friends, our spouses. What if God chose the same way? What if God chose who would be His based on whether or not people behaved in ways that pleased Him? He doesn’t, however, and for that we should all be thankful. As a matter of fact, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 that God chose the foolish to shame the wise and the weak to shame the strong. Why? So that in all things it would Him who was glorified. So that even in His choosing, He would be the standard by which He does so, not us. Praise Him for that miracle of grace, and give thanksgiving to the Lord of lords who has chosen us, the poor in character and will and spirit, to be His heirs and His children.
Study/Meditation: Is James speaking in 2:5 of earthly riches or the lack thereof when he speaks of God choosing the poor of the world? If not, what is he speaking of?
*Father, thank You for choosing based on Your grace and mercy and not based on us. You are mighty and loving and just. Amen.
James 2:2-4 “For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
James is warning us here that true Christianity leaves no room for showing favoritism, which is a form of judgment on others. The example he uses in these verses of the rich man and the poor man most likely refers to them both being unbelievers, or at the very least, new to the synagogue. The rich new guy gets the good seat; the poor new guy gets the floor. Yet God sees two guys who are both new. Why do we tend to see more than that? James says that when we do see more and then make distinctions based on that “more,” we become “judges with evil thoughts.” These evil thoughts are the character judgments and value judgments we place on people based on what we’ve decided is true about them. We must, instead, remember that we are all sinners saved by grace alone through faith alone. When we see each other through this lens, there is truly no room for value judgments that we may or may place on one another.
Study/Meditation: In what ways do you place character judgments on others in your day-to-day life? What can you do today, in a particular way, to alleviate those judgments?
*Father, forgive me for the judgments I place on others as if they are somehow lesser than me. I praise You and thank You, instead, for the grace You have given me to save one such as me. Thank You for this love undeserved. Amen.
James 2:1 “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”
None of us intentionally gives preferential treatment to one person over another. As a matter of fact, it’s probably safe to say that we intend to treat people fairly. Unfortunately, however, all of us also works through a sin nature which is naturally inclined to judge others based on what we see. James is still giving the believer a workable handbook-like letter for what a Christian should look like, and in this next section he will deal specifically with treating each other fairly and impartially. The actual language he used here for “show no partiality” is “do not receive the face.” James is literally telling us not to treat people in certain ways based on what we can see. God judges the heart, and since He is the only one who can see a person’s heart, only He is in a position to judge it. Consequently, James is reminding us that it is improper to treat one person either better or worse because of what we decide is true of them. He will continue in this frame for the next 12 verses, and it is of great importance that we take notice. All of us do it at one time or another, and since James is telling us how to show our faith, we all need some improvement here, too.
Study/Meditation: What biblical examples can you think of where God clearly chose based on a person’s heart rather than his/her outward appearance?
*Father, please forgive me for the times I show partiality based on what I see of a person. I know that You, in Your grace and mercy, never show this kind of partiality.
James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
Although it may look at first glance as though James has narrowed down the true practice of religion to a couple of simple rules, what he has actually done is encompassed the entire heart of worship using two examples. He has been writing in this section that we must be quick to hear and slow to speak or to anger. He wrote that we must be doers of the Word and not hearers only. These are actions that require denying ourselves and encompassing God. In summing up these two points about our speech and our actions, he reminds us that truly following God means that we keep our tongues bridled and we serve others, namely those in need. Being a Christian is never about us; it is about how we glorify God by following His Laws and His commands. Taking care of widows and orphans had been commanded the Israelites in the Old Testament. It was an example of obedience to the Father as stated in His Law. Basically James is saying this: “Your worship is real and your religion is genuine if you obey God, listen to Him, and then do what He says.” This is true worship.
Study/Meditation: Why do you think James chose this particular law, to care for widows and orphans, to encapsulate the whole Law? How can being obedient to God’s Law enable you to remain “unstained from the world”?
*Father, my desire is to please and honor You. Please help me to see the ways in which I can successfully obey Your Word, serving others while I look always to You. Thank You, Father, for giving me Your Word as a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Amen.