If you have your Bibles, please open to the book of James chapter 2. We are going to be continuing in our series called Dispersed & Dedicated as James is writing to encourage his brethren that are scattered everywhere but are to remain committed to the cause of Christ.
In the face of opposition and persecution, it would be very tempting to walk away, give up, and return to a life of sin. James ended chapter 1 telling these Christians to keep themselves unspotted or unstained by the world. This is a terrible place for a chapter break as we start James chapter 2. I say this because James has just discussed two matters that are near and dear to the heart of God in visiting and caring for orphans and widows in their distress. Among the list of similar admonitions throughout the Old Testament and even into parts of the New Testament there is also a concern for the poor. I would like to suggest that James is going to finish telling us what it takes to have pure and undefiled religion in the first 13 verses of this next chapter.
Our points of consideration for this sermon will be:
-Mercy triumphs when we avoid personal favoritism (vs. 1-4)
-Mercy triumphs when we honor the poor who are rich in faith (vs. 5-7)
-Mercy triumphs when we love our neighbor under the law of liberty (vs. 8-13)
Mercy triumphs when we avoid personal favoritism (vs. 1-4)
“Brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 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, 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,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?”
Our attitude as brethren cannot be one of partiality, personal favoritism, or respect of persons. God is impartial (Deut. 10:17; II Chron. 19:7) and accepts everyone that will fear Him and come to Him in obedience (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 2:11). We also need to demonstrate the proper attitude in our faith. The glorious Lord Jesus Christ, as James refers to the Savior, died for everyone because all of us are sinners. To make a further distinction is sin. You can’t use skin color, political party preference, socioeconomic status, wardrobe, etc. (See Prov. 24:23)
It is a privilege to be called a child of God and when we were added to the church after obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ, we were accepted by God. This means that we were once unacceptable to Him because of our sin. How could we show partiality, for example, based on the socioeconomic status and wardrobe of someone when they are also making an effort to serve God?
James offers the illustration of two men coming into an assembly of the church. One is dressed in fancy clothing and has a gold ring on his finger, signifying wealth and social status (Lk. 16:19). The other man is wearing filthy clothes and there is no mention of a gold ring, signifying that he is not well off and holds no high position in life. If we give honor and preference to the wealthy man and give him a comfortable seat, and then we force the poor man to sit on the floor at our feet or stand by himself against the wall, we are making a distinction that forces us to become judges with evil motives. We are not to be evil judges (Matt. 7:1-2) But the partiality that we could show can have two extremes and we need to be careful (See Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17). We might honor the wealthy with the evil motive that they can somehow benefit us by their financial wealth, higher social classification, or clout. We could be looking down at the poor man and dishonoring them because they have little to offer financially and cannot return any favor that we might bestow on them. This is a sin!
Let’s get even more detailed with this passage. If we form cliques or schisms in the body of Christ by only associating with the people that we feel comfortable around because of common interests, we are also guilty of this teaching from James (I Cor. 1:10, 26-29). There will naturally be certain members that we feel have mutual likes and dislikes with us and we will be drawn to them. We must check ourselves to make sure that we are not creating some kind of division spiritually in the church of Christ. We are all one in Christ Jesus. What we have in common is that the blood of God’s only begotten Son has cleansed us from sin and by His mercy and grace we have been redeemed and made a part of the family of God. Everyone that has been saved is welcome to Him. Mercy can only triumph if we extend the mercy that has been shown bountifully to us. This fellowship is inclusive of all the saved in Christ. We are also to be warm and inviting to those that would make the effort to assemble with us to learn more. If we cannot remain free from making distinctions among ourselves as members, there is no way that we will be considered a place where guests can feel open to explore faith.
If you examine the congregational dynamic in most churches of Christ, you will find that the majority of her members today are not the poor, the homeless, those going through drug addiction, the outcasts of society, etc. I say this to our shame. Every once in a while when someone under the aforementioned list graces the doors of our assemblies, most of the time, they do not feel like we are here to help, but rather to judge. We turn people away to programs for help. Go to AA, NA, and SA instead of stay and pray and help them along the way. Can we encourage others to supplement their recovery in meetings? Sure. But the main meeting is the one where we come together to worship the Lord and seek His divine blessings. We have really made the Lord’s church a magnet for middle-class people and that is not the picture that the Lord had for His church. People from all walks of life would come from every nation to the kingdom (Isaiah 2:1-4). If you reflect on His earthly ministry, Jesus spent his time with the poor and lowly, the sick and lame, the hurting, the dregs of society. He commissioned us to reach out, serve and save these souls as a part of the body of Christ. Do we share His vision for the church?
We need to remember that we all have a past. We have all made mistakes. Many of us came from poverty, a challenging home life, abuse, neglect, pains that we don’t like to revisit. We also had to overcome these barriers to becoming a child of God. Think back to when you were converted to Christ. Who invited you to the assembly of the church and how were you received? Did the people who were members there embrace you and make you feel welcome. I remember it like it was yesterday and it has been almost 25 years since I came to Christ in obedience to the gospel. I felt like I truly had a fresh start even though I brought a lot of baggage with me. I remember feeling like I had a whole new family and the experience changed my world forever. The only way this can happen for others is if we extend ourselves and value every soul equally.
We want to avoid becoming judges with evil motives. James says that when we make distinctions and show partiality or favoritism in the Lord’s church, we have evil motives and we become judges. We are not the judge; God is. Our goal as we pointed out last time from the end of chapter 1 is to avoid evil and have a religion that is pure and undefiled. This includes being impartial toward every soul of man, even the poor soul.
Let us learn to share the love of the Lord with everyone. People will judge themselves unworthy of the gospel if they reject it, but our privilege is to be able to tell the story of Jesus to all mankind and extend the invitation for them to be saved and added to the kingdom of God, His church. Never forget that it is only because of mercy and grace that you are who you are today. Without God’s love and forgiveness you would be lost…poor spiritually and hopeless.
God is impartial with His love but is also impartial with His judgment. Remember that the measure that we use to judge others will be used to measure us. Show mercy without partiality!
Mercy triumphs when we honor the poor (vs. 5-7)
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? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
God chose the poor because they love Him. James reminds these Christians that they are beloved brethren. Brothers cannot be partial in a family. We have a tendency to do the opposite. We choose those that can contribute financially, have something to offer, and seem to have life figured out from a worldly perspective. God says that he rather chooses those that have a lot of faith but from an earthly point of view don’t have much else to give. They are poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3; Rev. 2:9).
James points out here that these poor faithful souls are heirs of the kingdom. This was promised to those who love the LORD. When you don’t have anything, the Lord means everything. What do you have to lose if you are destitute? You cling to the promises of God. When we are distracted by earthly wealth and we begin to love money, our devotion is split, our attention is divided, and we will struggle to remain committed to our first love, Jesus (Mt. 6:24)
God is not being partial by choosing the poor here, but He chooses those who choose Him. Have we dishonored the poor man? The Bible teaches over and over again that we need to renounce all that we have to be disciples of Jesus; that we need to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all the “things” that we need, will be added to us. Yet, I feel like, in our modern church, we like to put God, His kingdom, and His righteousness in 2nd place, in order to see how many hours we can work and how much money we can make. We want to upgrade all of our possessions to the biggest and best. We want to outdo the next guy by getting the latest and greatest first. We have become selfish and conceited in many ways and we are blinded to this reality.
While there are people dying on the streets without food, clothing, shelter, or even an ounce of hope, we continue as Christians to turn a cold shoulder and live in lavish luxury. Don’t think that I am being flippant with my estimation of us. You have the internet. It doesn’t take long to see if you do a quick Google search that we are one of the wealthiest nations in the world. While many see this as a blessing, for many it becomes a curse that they will carry with them to the judgment of God. We need to use our resources as Christians to bless and care for the less fortunate. The church needs to take care of members that are in need of benevolence. We have spent enough time hoarding riches and pooling funds for our own pursuits. The very definition of mercy is “acts performed out of a desire to relieve suffering; motivated by compassion.” Don’t dishonor the poor by first becoming a judge with evil motives, but secondly, by looking down on others and seeing a need that you do not try to meet. It is our Christian duty!
James points out that most of the trouble that we face stems from the rich who exercise their worldly clout to oppress and drag Christians off to the courts and ultimately into prison for their faith. This was the kind of persecution that these Christians scattered everywhere were up against and it was enforced by people with power. The tendency was to give them someplace of honor to gain an advantage. It is happening every day as we see more and more of the world’s wealthy turn against us and they are trying to drive Christianity out of every place, piece by piece. Instead of standing firm for what the Lord teaches us in His word, many people are watering down the gospel to be inclusive of those who demand to continue living in sin while they are able to take the best seats in religious circles. This is 110% wrong. We are not being asked to allow blasphemers and transgressors to gain any honor in the kingdom of Christ. They might have positions of prominence in the world, but in the church, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Humility is the only stage and service is the only performance worthy of praise. James continues by saying that the wealthy are the ones who speak evil of the Lord and His good name. The name of the Lord is not honored amongst most of the wealthy. They believe that they earned their place by their own strength and instead of giving glory to God and following Jesus they rather blaspheme the LORD God and our Savior. At the same time, we need to be careful here because there are some Christians that are well off and they do bring much glory to the Lord. He has blessed them and they know it. But Jesus did warn that it would be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom because of the divided allegiance between their love for wealth and their love for the Lord. In making this point we do not want to classify or stereotype all wealthy people as obstinate. The point is that most of us are comfortable welcoming someone that is blessed financially into the assembly and are glad to see them become members of the church. It is always the poor that get overlooked and mistreated. James reminds us to not forget about the poor and serve them. This type of behavior can happen in other ways as well. Peter stood condemned because he treated the Jews and Gentiles differently and showed favoritism when it was convenient (Gal. 2:11-13; See also Gal. 3:28)
Augustine once said, “Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.” Don’t be guilty of neglecting the needy. Many of us have been burnt by those that we gave money to and found out later that the funds were misappropriated. We have watched a poor man who said he was hungry take a handout and drag himself back to the liquor store for booze instead of McDonald’s for a burger. Listen, you are not responsible for the choices of others, but only your decision to show mercy.
Mercy triumphs when we love our neighbor under the law of liberty (vs. 8-13)
“If, however, you are fulfilling 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. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 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. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment."
You need to love your neighbor as yourself and if you do, you are doing well. This is the simplest way to address all that we have said today. Love your neighbor was teaching from the Lord Jesus in His earthly ministry (Matt. 19:19). Of course, the neighborly commands were also established in the Law of Moses (Lev. 19:18; Exodus 20:16-17), but Jesus always took these teachings to another level. The question asked of Jesus after he taught this truth was, “Who is my neighbor?” This of course is an attempt to see how to avoid having to love too much and to get it accomplished with the least amount of effort. Jesus taught in a parable in Luke 10:25-37, “And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, 'You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.' But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied and said, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance, a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise, a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day, he took out two coins (denarius) and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?’ And he said, ‘The one who showed mercy toward him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same.’
Even though we recognize this teaching as the story about the good Samaritan, the real moral behind the story that many people miss is that it was two religious people that walked by the man that was robbed, beaten, and left to die, while it was a Samaritan (an outsider and someone that was despised by the Jewish people) that stopped to help. When we walk by and put on blinders when we see someone in need, we are not being a neighbor to them. It is not okay just to pass them off to the government to care for them. In that scenario, the government gets to be the good neighbor. We cannot merely direct people to programs and community-based organizations to provide help, otherwise, they are good neighbors. While there is a place for all of these other entities to play a part in our state and city, the members of the church are to play a pivotal role in the assistance of those who are in need. We have really moved away from being the hands and feet of Christ in our respective neighborhoods. We need to start heading in that direction again. I realize that church benevolence is limited to our members of the church. But as individuals we are commanded to do good unto all men, especially those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). Later in chapter 2, James says, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 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?” Would we turn these brethren away to go anywhere else to find food, clothing, or shelter or would we take them in and provide? I have literally watched as churches hoarded thousands upon thousands of dollars in a treasury and justifying it by saying that the roof might need new shingles, while members of the church suffer from basic needs. It is ludicrous to think this is actually happening amongst so-called brethren. Even worse, when we see people in our community that is hurting, in need, and looking for a glimmer of hope, instead of being that light for them we like to pass the personal responsibility on to local food banks, resource centers, and other faith-based organizations that are doing the work that we should be doing every day. Maybe you cannot personally start a food drive or a soup kitchen, but can you volunteer at a shelter or help serve food at a soup kitchen? This will honor God, warm your heart, and allow you to serve in a capacity that will bless others and fill them with joy. We have to be creative. You can partner with BIG brother BIG sister programs to spend time with a child that is desperate for care as an extension of God’s love. You can donate a gently used winter coat so that someone isn’t cold this winter. You can make sure that an elderly person that burns wood has enough dry wood split and brought in before the cold sets in. These are just a few of the thousands of ways that you can get involved. Doing nothing is not an option! (Mt. 25:40)
If you show partiality, it is sinful! James cuts to the heart and says that if there is someone in the church (a brother or sister) that you look down on or at least look at differently, you are committing sin (See James 4:11- 12). We cannot be partial with one another. We are all one! He argues that if you violate one part of the Law you are guilty of all. So while you might stand firm on not committing adultery but you did actually commit murder, under the old Law you were guilty of all in the sense that you demonstrated a spirit of disobedience and would be punished by God. James points out that we are under the new law of liberty which is summed up in two simple commands: Love the Lord and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands hang all the Law and prophets, according to Jesus. If some act that you do violates the principle of loving God or loving a neighbor you have failed to fulfill the law of Christ and the law of liberty.
In other words, this is what serving God is all about under the new law in Christ. It is grace that we are under now, but this also means that we have to extend grace to others. In the same way, we have received mercy, so we must show mercy to those who need it desperately. Since loving your neighbor as yourself is a part of the Law, to disobey the command makes us guilty of all the Law. Fortunately, we are under the law of Christ, and bearing one another’s burdens fulfills that law (Gal. 6:2).
James concludes this section in verse 13 by saying, “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. We titled the lesson today, “The Triumph of Mercy”. Here we learn what mercy triumphs over. We overcome judgment by the level of mercy that we show toward others (See Proverbs 21:13; Matt. 6:15) How are we doing in allowing mercy to triumph over judgment? Can we improve in this area of our faith? You have probably heard this before, but the difference between trying and triumph is just a little “umph”. What effort can you start putting forth to show more mercy and become less judgmental? Have you shown partiality in the Lord’s church and you need to put that away from you? Do you look down on specific individuals that you encounter and play favorites with certain ones and you know this is not where your heart should be in Christ? How can you start extending the mercy and grace of our glorious Lord to others?
In I Corinthians 12:22-23, Paul wrote, “it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable.” Let us remember that truth and also that we all need each other to build up the church. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:16, “the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” There is no place for the divisive, judgmental spirit. We need mercy to triumph. Paul addressed the church at Corinth about their carnal mindset and this included their lack of love for one another.
For example, the church in Corinth was not commended for the way that they took the Lord’s Supper. Why? Listen to Paul in I Cor. 11:18-22, “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this, I will not praise you.” The rich and the poor were at odds because of selfishness and arrogance. The rich ate their fill and became drunk while the poor went without and were shamed. There was no communion (sharing) or fellowship. They were divided over the Lord’s Supper, the very meal that reminds us that we were all lost and destined for a devil’s hell until Christ died to redeem us at the cost of His precious blood in being nailed the cross. What a shame to be partial to our brethren, especially when we rely solely on the mercy of God. Be merciful for you have received mercy! Let mercy triumph over judgment. This is the only way we can rejoice in the judgment to come. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Roman 8:1). Praise God for His mercy today!
Today we have learned three areas where mercy triumphs over judgment:
- Mercy triumphs when we avoid personal favoritism (vs. 1-4)
- Mercy triumphs when we honor the poor (vs. 5-7)
- Mercy triumphs when we love our neighbor (vs. 8-13)
If you are not a Christian today, we want to extend the invitation of Jesus to you to become a child of God and be washed clean from all of your sins by the blood of Jesus. If you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and you are ready to turn from your sins and express your faith in Him, we will baptize you in water for the remission of sins. You will then start your new life in Him and you will have the hope of eternal life. Mercy is waiting with open arms! Let us know how we can help you by getting connected with a good local church of Christ to assist you.
If you are a child of God, but you have forgotten about the mercy shown to you and you have committed some wrong or you need some encouragement and prayer to avoid a misstep, we want to pray for you and we trust that the Lord will cleanse you from any unrighteousness. We are told that the mercies of the Lord never come to an end, they are new every morning! This morning he wants to show His mercy to you if you need to reaffirm your love for the Lord. Contact us for more information or to share a prayer request. God bless you richly in Jesus Christ our Lord.