The following sermon was prepared by Cobus Bezuidenhout. Click here: James 2:1-13, for the video version. Alternatively, you can read the notes below, or follow along as you watch or listen.
MANIFESTING THE LOVE OF CHRIST IN ALL HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS.
During the fall of 1775, a man who appeared to be a typical American farmer attempted to book a room in Baltimore’s most fashionable hotel. Concerned about the hotel’s reputation, the manager refused to rent out the room. So, the man left and took a room in another hotel.
Later, the manager who refused to rent out the room learned that he had refused a room to Thomas Jefferson, who at the time served as the second Vice-president of the United States. The manager immediately sent an invitation to Jefferson, asking him to return to his hotel as his guest. Jefferson’s response was simple and to the point. – “I value your good intentions highly, but if you have no place for an American farmer, you have no right giving hospitality to the Vice-president of the United States.” This is a great example of social discrimination in America.
When Jesus came to live among men approximately 2000 years ago, people did not recognize the One they met. Jesus, who is God, always was, and always will be. Yet it was God in the form of a man that was symbolically rejected by the innkeeper, and was years later to be rejected, hated, and even crucified by His own people. That is an example of spiritual discrimination in the 1st century.
When Christianity came into a corrupt world with a brilliantly new moral radiance…. The moral level of society was depressing, and sin prevailed in many forms…. Into this discouraged world came Christ and his Spirit-transformed disciples, filled with holy joy, motivated by a love which the pagans could not grasp, and proclaiming Good News – the message that God has provided a Saviour. These Christians lived in tiny communities knit together in the power of the Holy Spirit, little colonies of heaven so to speak. They thought of themselves as pilgrims on their way to the celestial city as John Bunyan would describe it, but they were very much concerned to manifest the love of Christ in all human relationships.
But they like us were not perfect. In our passage we study this morning we will find another test of spiritual maturity: A maturing walk of faith ALLOWS for no partiality. Now, you may wonder: why would James have to address a point like this with such a radiant and powerfully spirit filled group of believers, and why is this still important today? The answer is simple: Because we all still live in an old clay pot. And sometimes the old master, our old Adam answers the door. And when that happens, we find that partiality rushes into view.
I would like to invite you now to follow along as I read James 2: 1-13, and note how James addresses this problem, James 2:1-13.
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. 2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes,
3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,”
4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
6 But you have dishonoured the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?
7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
8 If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” you do well;
9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.
13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Now, note that as the good pastor and loving shepherd he was, James starts with the new creations we are in Christ. He stresses our new birth into a new family with an entirely new orientation through which we look at life – namely: God’s!
He starts with: My brethren.
So, we can call our first point: THE INTIMACY WE SHARE.
Next, he goes to the very heart of the matter. The way we view others must be through the loving eyes of our new master and Lord, not through our fallen and sinful old eyes. Any partiality whether social, financial or racial is an attack on the very nature of the God of Glory who has put His word of truth within us.
Let’s call this second point: THE INCONSISTENCY WE SHOW, v. 1b do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. The word partiality originally meant to look up with favour as in respect or admiration. However, in the Old Testament times it began to denote a judge who altered his verdict based on the ability the accused or the accuser had to bribe him. Thus, in every usage of the New Testament it is always negative and uncharacteristic of God and His way.
We think best in pictures, so James paints one that should make us all squirm. You can jot down our next point, point number three which is: THE ILLUSTRATION JAMES VIVIDLY SHARES v. 2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes. James lets us in on an event that very likely took place at the 1st church of Jerusalem. One Lord’s day they had two incredible visitors. Let’s meet them. Here comes the guy with a gold ring on each finger, which was the custom of the rich Romans of that day. They would rent a gem for every joint to show off their wealth and power. Today it would be gold jewellery and glittering diamonds and maybe a big fat overpriced watch. James continues to describe this man’s outward appearance, his clothes “fine apparel” this word literally means: “glittering and shining” like Herod wore in Acts 10:30. In our day he would be showing off an Italian tailored linen suit and handmade Italian shoes, and so forth. The idea is that no one would fail to notice this man’s entrance.
But wait, before the ushers close the door another visitor comes stumbling in. He is an absolute contrast to the 1st person. “Poor” is the lowest level of society; in this context it means: beggar. His appearance is “really dressed poorly” meaning he smells really bad; he is very dirty. The clothes he has is that which he is wearing. He works in them, sweats in them, is sick in them and he sleeps them.
Now, look at what happens in v.3: and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,”. Just don’t lean against the walls lest you stain them.
Sadly, James hits us hard in this next point, point number 4: THE INIQUITY WE SILENTLY SHOUT. In v. 4 James asks the question: by doing so, . . have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
What does James mean? He says that as soon as you measure someone’s worth by the way they dress, the way they smell, the job they have, or by their financial status then you are contradicting God.
And this is James’ next point, he says that: PARTIALITY CONTRADICTS GOD. Look at v. 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
The next point: PARTIALITY IS INVITING DISASTER: vv. 6-7 But you have dishonoured the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
James argues that showing favouritism to the rich is socially irrational. James is not saying that all the rich oppressed them, for some did not, but this was the general historic experience of the Jews, as well as their present experience in the Jewish Christian dispersion. Calvin expressed the folly of showing special attentiveness to rich persecutors, commenting, “There is no reason … for men zealously to pay respect to their own executioners, and at the same time to hurt men who are on their side.”
Our next point and also the key to overcoming this sin: PARTIALITY IS CONQUERED BY LOVE: Look at v. 8 If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” you do well. The Royal Law. . . . is love.
It is royal because it originates in God our King. It is Law because He commands us to love. Love fulfils all of God’s law.
Did you know that the TEN COMMANDMENTS may be reduced to; HOW TO LOVE GOD? Love has always been God’s standard. The Ten Commandments were nothing more than ten aspects of love, verbalized. The first four commands show the characteristics of love toward God, and the last six showed the characteristics of love toward others in our love toward God.
Turn with me to Exodus 20 quickly, keep one finger in James. Exodus 20:3-17
Now let’s look at how the Ten Commandments define love:
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
So, LOVE IS LOYAL [Commandment #1] “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” [v.3]. Love is loyal, not fickle, God is just saying, “Will you love Me enough to not leave Me for some other god?” Love doesn’t make other gods or turn its back on the one, true God…this love is loyal.
LOVE IS FAITHFUL [Commandment #2] “Thou shalt not make unto thee any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments” [vv.4-6]. In other words, not only is love loyal, but it is faithful. God’s saying “If you love Me, you’re not going to be fickle and leave Me, but you’re going to stand by Me.”
LOVE IS REVERENT [Commandment #3] “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain” [v. 7]. If you love God, you’re not going to use His name in vain…you’re not going to drag His reputation through the gutter. Why? Because love is reverent meaning: worshipful.
LOVE IS INTIMATE [Commandment #4] “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore, the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” [vv. 8-11]. Love draws aside for intimacy. God is saying, “If you love Me, you won’t just go live your life apart from Me, you’ll draw near to Me. You’ll want to be with Me and fellowship with Me, so you’ll drop all your activities one day a week and just spend it with Me.” Love is intimate.
LOVE IS RESPECTFUL [Commandment #5] “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” [v.12].Love is not lawless, nor is it rebellious — it is respectful and honouring. One of the great characteristics of love is that it always seeks to say the best about everyone. It also seeks to aid, to help, to assist, and to honor. Love is respectful.
LOVE IS HARMLESS [Commandment #6] “Thou shalt not kill” [v.13]True love would never murder another. Love is harmless…it hurts no one.
LOVE IS PURE [Commandment #7] “Thou shalt not commit adultery” [v.14]Love always seeks the purity of another. Adultery defiles but love seeks only purity.
LOVE IS UNSELFISH [Commandment #8] “Thou shalt not steal” [vs.15]Love gives, it doesn’t take. Love is unselfish.
LOVE IS TRUTHFUL [Commandment #9] “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” [v.16].If you lie against your neighbour, you’re trying to hurt him, but if you love him, you’ll only tell the truth.
LOVE IS CONTENT [Commandment #10] “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour’s” [v.17]. Love is content with what it has. It doesn’t want its neighbour’s possessions, even to the point of saying, “I’m so glad you have all that stuff. I’m happy that you can possess it.”
So, there you have it: God’s Royal Law – LOVE.
When the royal law is lived, marvellous things happen horizontally and vertically. Ernest Gordon, in his book Through the Valley of the Kwai, tells of the miraculous transformation that took place among the allied prisoners in a Japanese concentration camp in 1943. In 1942 the camp was literally a sea of mud and filth, the scene of gruelling labour and brutal treatment by Japanese guards. There was hardly any food, and the law that pervaded the whole camp was the law of the jungle: every man for himself. Twelve months later the ground of the camp was cleared and clean. The bamboo bed slats had been debugged. Green boughs had been used to rebuild the huts, and on Christmas morning 2,000 men were at worship. What had happened? During the year a prisoner had shared his last crumb of food with another man who was also in desperate need. Then he died. Among his belongings they found a Bible. Some who witnessed his ultimate act of love wondered, could that Bible be the secret of willingness to give sacrificially to others? One by one the prisoners began to read it. Soon the Spirit of God began to grip their hearts and change their lives, and in a period of less than twelve months there was a spiritual and moral revolution within that camp.’ The royal law lived out had done its work.
Let’s move on to our next point: PARTIALITY IS A VERY SERIOUS SIN: vv. 9-13: But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So, speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
You see, . . . Favouritism is equal to adultery and equal to murder. And remember, James says so under the power of inspiration. Thus, the holy voice of God breathed out through the Holy Spirit declares if you and I show favouritism, then we are committing the adultery of an affair with wealth over our betrothed engagement to Christ. It is murder because we discriminate and thus by not loving, hate the poor who are God’s, and fail to love our neighbour!
The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:15-18 – Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but indeed and in truth.
So, as James drives home the poor rich / rich poor paradox, he is powerfully asserting that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. This being so, it is absurd to be partial toward anyone. All should be treated equally – as beings created in the image of God. Rich and poor should be accorded equal honor and graciousness. Discrimination, partiality or favouritism. . . is spiritually irrational.
If a church is strong in worship, missions, evangelism or youth ministry, that is because it has worked at strengthening those areas. By God’s grace, a church can also become strong in caring for the poor, the refugees, the disabled, and the broken as believers intentionally submit to God’s Word. This is a choice God wants us to make individually and corporately as we follow Christ in his love for all.
You see there is a personal warning to each and every one of us. The personal question James demands we ask ourselves is, how is my heart in this matter of favouritism? Are you in danger of judgment because you are transgressing the royal law?
There is also a corporate warning to all of us. There is a particular corporate application for any church which is made up of educated, prosperous people. It is so common among many churches today to give a brighter smile, be overly friendly to well-dressed professionals, or anyone they think may benefit their ministries in some way or another, . . . and to give a less enthusiastic greeting to the less-favoured or troubled among them. Such subtle discrimination may defy human detection, but no one fools God, God always sees it. And if it is practiced long enough it can weaken a church even while all seem to be going well.
Jesus saw everyone as they really are. Gold rings and shiny garments meant nothing to Him. Neither did the torn, dirty clothes of the poor. He looks at the heart, not the wardrobe.
In the Mark 12:41-44 we read that in observing people perform acts of worship in the Temple, Jesus watched the Jerusalem elite parade by as they dropped their offerings into the treasury – and he was not impressed at all by what they gave. But then He saw something that made His heart thrill: a poor widow bearing only a fraction of a penny approached the coffers quietly, head bowed, hoping to draw no attention to herself. Though she did not know Jesus was watching her, she knew that God was. Silently her tiny coins fell upon the shekels of the rich. Unlike the so-called elite, she had given all. That day Jesus had seen little to impress Him, but when the widow passed by, though He remained seated, inwardly He was giving her a standing ovation.
Your see, to see like Jesus, to stand on the level plain at the foot of the cross, and manifest the love of Christ in all our relationships . . . to God’s glory – that is our call and our privilege.