James: A verse by verse Study

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 old 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 become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:1-13 NIV

Favoritism 

In 2:1-13, James condemns favoritism (discrimination); particularly self-serving, judgmental treatment of the rich and poor. His comments equally apply to our lives today. Evil thoughts about what we can get from fellow believers must be rejected. 

Instead, God is to be glorified for what He has freely given to all. Jesus, the Lord of glory, laid aside His divine rights to identify with and save us – sinners with no merit at all (1). Jesus Christ, who possesses supreme glory, displayed perfectly impartial humility during His earthly ministry. 

Stopping 

Instead of finding fault with others, we must confess and address our own acts of favoritism. James gives wisdom about how to end sinful discrimination such as labeling people in our churches, workplaces and social circles as either “important” or “unimportant.” 

▪ Stop viewing the rich as potential sources of money for paychecks, projects or pleasures.

▪ Stop lavishing attention and flattery on people for what they have or how they look. 

▪ Stop being barely courteous to those who are plain, quiet, without wealth, lonely or difficult. 

▪ Stay fixed on God’s glory to see people His way. Then, we will never make such distinctions.

Becoming

Be impartial: The Lord is impartial (2). Yet, the elite in societies often look down on Christians as lowly (3). With an ironic twist, James reminds his readers that the wealthy, powerful people to whom we often show deference do not always treat us well. Those many judged as “noble” actually expose church members to exploitation, arrests, court hearings, fines and blasphemies against Jesus Christ.

Be loving: James quotes, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (4). This “royal law” is part of what Jesus called the greatest command (5). James wisely anticipates that those who discriminate may be quick to reply that they simply love their neighbor. Self-deception may cause others to say their actions are about personality, not prejudices. James’ point is the royal law extends to all neighbors equally – rich and poor. God’s Word convicts those who flatter the rich and mistreat the poor. Neither action expresses God’s love.

Be obedient: James says partial obedience is disobedience. When we break one part of the law, we break the entire law as well. The royal law is part of the Christian’s law of liberty. By God’s grace, believers have the freedom to choose not to sin. Believers can submit to the Spirit and offer God’s mercy instead of human judgments. God, who looks upon the hearts of all people, is rich in mercy. How much more should His people, who can only see outward appearances, delight to offer His mercy instead of wrong, partial judgments?

James’ questions about favoritism call for serious reflection. Has God given you material benefits? If so, do you selflessly use them to help others? Do worldly desires for wealth and fame tempt you to flatter the rich and ignore the poor? Is your focus on the Lord Jesus who gave everything for you? If so, you will be known among your church family and others as content, gracious, delighted to share and humble to ask for help when needed.

Questions

Q1. Note: The favoritism (discrimination) that James confronts is a sin, not a form of discernment or love. Why is it wrong for believers to show favoritism, and how do believers still show favoritism today?

INSIGHTS: Answers will vary, but will relate to these truths: All people bear the image of God; therefore, they have dignity and value; God does not show favoritism; such discrimination reveals values out of line with God’s Kingdom values.

Q2. Why is loving your neighbor the solution to favoritism? (Share any verses that help guide your thinking.) 

Q3. How has God shown mercy to you, and what specific ways can we extend His mercy to others?

Related Verses

1 Attitude of Christ: Philippians 2:1-11

2 God is impartial: Deuteronomy 10:17; Acts 10:34-35

3 Lowly Christians: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

4 Love your neighbor: Leviticus 19:18

5 Greatest command: Matthew 22:36-40

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