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.
James 1:26 “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
Once again James has returned to the theme of speaking little while listening and doing more. Jesus had often said that what comes out of a man’s mouth will display what is in his heart, and James is reminding his readers that their lives must encompass all that they read and study in the Word; otherwise, their attempts at religiosity are meaningless. The act of attending church isn’t enough. We must apply what we learn there, and controlling what we say is one of the necessary ways in which we do this. So much can be nullified by our words, and so much can be verified. Let the verification be that we are the Father’s children who seek to do the Father’s will. In that our hearts will not be deceived and our religion will not be worthless.
Study/Meditation: What is the difference between being simply “religious” and being “Christian”? How should they be one in the same?
*Father, forgive me for the things I say that do not display Your love and mercy and justice. Help me to speak wisely and to say only those things that build up Your Kingdom. Amen.
James 1:25 “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
One of the truest ways to prove that we really believe something is to act on it. If the meteorologist warns of a coming hurricane and we do nothing to heed his warnings, then we can’t really say we believe what he has said about its potentially devastating effects. We listen and we see the report; it may even make us tremble a bit. But as soon as we turn the television off, we reason away the warnings and go on about our daily lives as if the hurricane will certainly not do what this scientist has said it would do. In truth, we didn’t believe, even though we listened. James is warning us of the same truths regarding God’s Word. If we look at it, read it, study it, and go away without abiding by it, we can’t say we believe it. The proof of our belief is in our application of it. Be not a seer only, forgetting its freeing and life-changing contents once you’ve looked away. Apply what the Lord has told you through His Word. In this you demonstrate your sincere belief that what He has said there is true.
Study/Meditation: What does it mean that this Law which shows our imperfections is “the law of liberty”? How can you reconcile this phrase with what Jesus said in Matthew 5:48, “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”?
*Father, forgive me for the many times I go away from Your Word without applying what You’ve told me there. Help me to be wise in my life, heeding what is written there and living it out every day. Amen.