Series > James: The Wisdom of Faith
The Wisdom of Loving Your Neighbor
Zach Pummill // January 20, 2019
scripture Passage // James 2:1–13 (ESV)
“1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 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, 3 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,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
We said up front in the beginning of this series that James is a challenging book. And today's passage really is an example of why. I told Ryan this week cause I was just reading it and I just, I said, “You know, I think if James was alive today, he would have a very, very small church.” Because he's just a very challenging individual and he doesn't pull any punches. And in today's passage, he just kinda lands a number of blows to his audience and perhaps to us as well. But it should make us feel uncomfortable and we need to recognize that James isn't direct or blunt because he just values telling it like it is. That wouldn't make him a good pastor. It wouldn’t make him a good shepherd.
He's direct because he cares about the genuineness of your faith. He cares about the genuineness of his audience. He cares about the eternal destination of your soul. And he recognizes that there's times where we can forget the faith that we claim and we can go in a different direction.
And so today's passage direct, but it's actually also relatively straightforward as it deals with the singular issue of partiality or showing favoritism. And his overall point in this passage is this, that showing favoritism to some and not to others is in no way compatible with faith in Jesus Christ. So he would say simply do not show favoritism. Do not be partial to some and not to others. We'll understand why, but just up front he would say that you know, if you're one who engages in partiality. I only like to surround myself with people that are like me or have my interest or I only like to surround myself with people that I feel have something to offer me. Maybe my career or socially or I look down and avoid other people that aren't like me and I look upon them with contempt.
Then James would say pretty simply that you probably don't understand the implications of the gospel because you're not, you don't understand who Jesus is. You don't value the type of people that He is building and you radically overestimate who you are and what it is that you're doing. And so he has many things to say today in regards to partiality. And as we listened to James this morning, I'd really like to break this passage down into five points, which is surprising in and of itself because I never used points in a sermon. It's just not my style. So that either means that the Spirit's going to do something awesome today or this will be terrible. But you can tell him he afterwards. But either way I'd like to go verse by verse through this passage and just follow James' argument and I think these five points will help us keep organized.
So here they are: the Prohibition of Partiality, the Basis of Partiality, the Outcome of Partiality, the Hypocrisy of Partiality and the Alternative to Partiality. And already, you're thinking don't ever do points in a sermon again if that's going to be that much. Did you get all that? It was the Prohibition, the Basis, the Outcome, the Hypocrisy and the Alternative to Partiality.
So first up is the prohibition of partiality and we see it in verse one. He says, "My brothers show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory." Now in chapter two James is going to change his focus from chapter one. In chapter one his exhortation to his audience was much more generalized. He would say, "Ask God for wisdom. Be Slow to speak, be quick to listen. Bridle, your tongue. Remain steadfast under under trial." But in chapter two he starts to turn the microscope on this community. Upon the life or upon this audience and their life together and some of the issues that were going on and first up is the issue of partiality.
Now, if you remember whenever Ryan started this series, he said that the book of James is either the first book or one of the earliest books written in the New Testament. It's important to note that because it would just show that one of the first issues the church faced, in actually really being the people of God was the issue of showing favoritism amongst the body of Christ. And so what James is saying is that if you want to be the faithful people of God then Church 101 is recognizing that showing favoritism and partiality and preferential treatment of some and not all, is simply something that does not belong in the church. Because if you can't get past favoritism and that type of treatment of others, then you might as well go home. Because you're not going to be interested in what Jesus is doing and what He's building. And you will in, you know, in the end, just simply be a drain on the life of the community.
So, but also notice how James talks about Jesus in verse one. He's only gonna refer to Jesus twice in his entire letter. And this is the second time of the two. And he uses the phrase our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory. Now if you think about it, in the first few years of the church, these were new titles for Jesus. Okay? Like these were, it was a massive step of faith for them to say this guy that was crucified, dead and buried and resurrected from the dead, to then say He is Lord. He is the Christ and He is the Lord of Glory. So maybe a simpler way of considering these titles is that true faith recognizes Jesus as Master, as Messiah, and as Judge.
But why doesn't James just say, ‘My brothers show no partiality as you hold the faith in Jesus?’ Why does he say our ‘Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory’? Well, James is using these titles as a call to remembrance to who they claim to serve. Because in showing partiality inside the church, they are not living as those that have Jesus as their Master, their Messiah, and their Judge. They're not following him in the way that he had commanded. And so James would say, does that not put your faith somewhere in the balance whenever you are not following Jesus in that way? And they needed to be reminded of who they really claim to have faith in.
We have to be reminded all the time ourselves. You know, we need the same reminder because we can so easily see these titles in the scriptures and we just gloss right over them and we forget that they're at the foundation of our faith.
You know, so we can treat “Christ” as though it was Jesus's last name instead of meaning Messiah. Or we can treat ‘Lord’ as like a respectful prefix, by calling, somebody ‘Mr. Tompkins, Mrs. Tompkins,’ and showing respect.
But it is not that. It is a title that he is Lord over all creation. And sometimes we forget who we profess Him to be. So is Jesus your Master? Do you serve him? And do you live in a way that recognizes his authority in your life? Not just in compartmental areas of your life, but all of life? Is what he commands treated as commands or are they suggestions? Do you endeavor to love what He loves, hate what He hates, value what He values?
Is Jesus your Messiah? Do you believe that he rescued you from the life you could have had? But do you also believe that he gives you the life that you really need and want and desire?
Because that's what a Messiah is. That's what a Messiah does. Because if you go back to what they wanted during Jesus's time, what do they want? They wanted a messiah that would rescue them from Roman rule, but he would then give them the life they wanted, which was to elevate Israel to a powerful nation once again. That's the life they wanted. And the messiah would give it to them. And so, is Jesus your Messiah? We say, yes, he died for my sins and rescued me from Satan, sin and death. But do you also believe that that same messiah is the one who gives you the life that you want? It's the life that you need?
Is he your Judge? Do we live as though he is the one that is seated at the right hand of the Father in unimaginable glory and that he will come and return to judge the living and the dead and that one day everything we have done, everything we have thought will be exposed?
It's no small thing to say that I have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. Is He your Master? Is He your Messiah? Is He your Judge? And this is why James uses these titles to remind them of who they profess to have faith in. Because when you lose sight of that, when you don't live in a way where He's your Master, Messiah and your Judge, you will inevitably take his place. You will inevitably begin to operate on your own authority. You will choose what the good life is. You will determine what is right and wrong and true and valuable. And that is exactly where partiality begins. And that's exactly what happens when we are partial is that we become our own master, our own messiah and our own judge. And that is why James prohibits it.
Which brings us to the basis of partiality. Why do we show partiality? Why is it so easy to do? What we see in James example in verses two through four, pretty simple example. It says two men walk into their worship setting. One dressed in fine attire with gold rings. He's a social elite. Another man walks in who was poor. Dressed in filthy rags. Now to the rich man, they say, "Oh, you come sit over here."
But to the poor man, they say, "You go stand over there." And in this example, the distinguishing factor between these two men and their decision making process is wealth. They see one man come in who is sharply dressed, they see another man who comes in in filthy rags. And then that determines, based on wealth, how they're treated.
Now James hates this behavior, but in a Greco-Roman culture, it was completely normal. It's because their culture operated on an honor/shame system.
And so to those of you know, wealth and status, you would go to them and you would fawn over them. You would honor them in hopes of gaining their favor and you would gain privileges for yourself and your status would be elevated. But to the person of low status, you would let them live in their humiliation. Why? Because they don't have anything to offer you. They don't increase your standing in the world in any way whatsoever. And so, James would say that that type of behavior has no place in the church because that completely undermines the gospel and what the church is in the first place.
Now, this is not an ancient problem in the church. It's also a modern problem in the church. I was in seminary and there was, there was a pastor, that had been removed from a very prominent church in one of the wealthiest parts of Dallas.
And it wasn't in our denomination or anything like that. But this pastor, he was, he was fired from this church and afterwards he didn't really jump into a new job. It was just a, just a total beat down of a situation. And so he just kind of asked if he could come up to the seminary and just to sit in on classes. Just to talk to students. Just to maybe connect with some new people and kind of take a quick breather before he would consider new ministry opportunities.
And so after a while of him just being around, everybody started to kind of learn what his story was. So he had endeavored to preach the gospel faithfully to his church. He tried to preach the hopeful parts, but he also tried to preach the hard parts. But the wealthiest family in the church, wealthiest by a mile, they did not like his preaching whatsoever. They did not like being made to feel uncomfortable. They didn't like feeling convicted. And so they did not want a pastor who preached the Word. They wanted a teddy bear of a pastor that would just make everybody feel good about themselves.
And so in the end it got to be so bad where they went up to the elders and, and they said, it's either us or him. It's either our checkbook or his preaching. Either he goes or we go. And who do you think they went with? Why do you think he was at the seminary? They let him go. They fired him. Now is that a church that you would go to?
Obviously, hopefully not. But why? Favoritism undermines the gospel. Favoritism completely shows your hand. Favoritism and preferential treatment to some and not others shows you are really following because some pulpits are for sale. Some pulpits are seeking the glory of man, they don't want the Lord of Glory. They're not after Jesus but they're after something else. And the way that that creeps out, is through their partiality and through favoritism.
Do you see how partiality undermines the gospel and destroys any sort of gospel witness?
Let's bring it closer to home. Let's pretend that maybe you, or Ryan or I. It was pretty well, well established fact and unspoken. And unless you're really a top 10 giver in this church or you make six, you know, six figure salary, we really aren't gonna spend that much time with you. Now, how would that completely undermine any gospel credibility in this church? How would we have any respectability? This place wouldn't even be worth your time.
Why? Because it's most likely not really the church. Because it would not be Jesus that we are after. It would be something else. And the truth is we'd become a dangerous place. We'd become a place of destruction, not a place of life.
But there's more to partiality than just simply wealth. There's more to it than just favoring those who have status and money. James uses wealth as an example of partiality, but he just does that so he can highlight a bigger problem and what gets closer to the heart of the issue, which is judging based on based on external appearance.
So in one look, you size somebody up. In one conversation, you size them up and you determine their value based on what you think they can give you or what they can't give you and then where they fit into your life and whether they're worth your time.
Does that not undermine the gospel? Now, if we're honest, we can show partiality in all kinds of ways. I know I do. Everybody does. It's part of what being sinful is, is that we divide and we find reasons to justify it. And so partiality can come in all sorts of different ways and we can make you know, evaluations of others so naturally. And so if we're honest, how might you struggle with partiality? How might you struggle with favoritism? Who's the first person you look for? You know, in the room.
Maybe you're partial and show favoritism to people that you feel are influential and prominent in the church community. And so you cozy up to them. You like to build relationships with them, so that your status is the same and so that it might elevate you. There might be a sense of validation that comes from being a part of that influential circle. But it's not, that completely undermines the gospel.
Why? Because maybe what's really going on in that person's heart is the fact that their identity in Christ as a co-heir with him is not enough and I need these people to say that I am good and I am valuable and I have worth.
We look for them to fill up that hole that's in the heart. Or maybe you show partiality to just certain people, certain friends and you don't want anybody else. You just don't want to get to know anybody else, because getting to know other people can be hard and it can be exhausting sometimes and you just want to invest in them and that's it.
We've all been there. It's hard to get to know people. It can be taxing. Some of us don't feel like we're very good at it. But in the end we have to recognize that if we just, that close relationships are not what James is after. Why? Because close relationships are godly, but closed off relationships are not. And he would have us recognize that if you know, if we're the type of place where people only feel unwelcome if they're around us, then perhaps we don't have the life that we think that we do.
And perhaps we show favoritism to only a select few and we invest in them because maybe what's really going on is we actually don't like the church family that Jesus has invited us into. And so we can just subconsciously show our disdain for it by not letting anybody else in. And always having a big welcome or unwelcome sign that everybody can see and to know that that is where we belong or where you belong. Maybe you're someone that shows partiality to social circles outside this church because the church just doesn't offer the status that you want.
Maybe you're partial to certain types of personalities, introverted, extroverted. Maybe you're partial to people that, you are, you're, you don't like being around people that are going through a rough time. Why? Because you're partial to people that only ever go about two inches deep on any conversation all the time. Because you don't want to actually talk about life and difficult things and you just feel like people that are going through hard times are consuming and exhausting.
We show partiality in all sorts of ways. However you might show partiality, the basis is always the same. Is that you engage in relationships based on what you get out of it. It's everyone loved me. I don't really want to love you. It's simply, you know, we become the center of our social orbit, which means that we're not really committed to the community that Jesus is forming. We're committed to a community of our own making. But that community of our own making is built on our judgments of who's worthy of our time and our affection.
And James starts to kind of hit hard here in verse 4. He's clear about what the outcome of partiality really is. He says, "You become judges with evil thoughts." Think about that for a second. When we show partiality, we become judges with evil thoughts. For James, that's not a simple issue. It's a big deal. It's evil. Why? Because in that moment we are not following Jesus. Because your actions are communicating that what Jesus wants and what Jesus thinks about this person is not good enough for you and so you will kind of push him to the side and you will take his place and in showing that partiality you are acting as your own master and messiah and judge, because then when we do that, we are the ones who determine what's valuable based on our own authority.
We decide what good community should look like and then we become the judge of who's in and who's out. And that is not the Gospel. James would say that as evil, which is why he says that partiality is completely incompatible with faith because it's nothing more than hypocrisy that dishonors the other and blasphemes the name of God. That's kind of blow number two, is that when we show partiality, we would blaspheme the very name of God. He says in verses 5-7, he says, "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? But you have dishonored the poor man." And he goes on and he says, "Are not the rich 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 are called?"
So what's James doing? He's essentially confronting them with their own hypocrisy by pointing, by pointing out that they think they're following Jesus, but in reality they're really just following the world's value system. They've brought that in to the church, but it's the very system that they hate. Why? Because other people will take advantage of them through it and so he's saying, why would you then turn around and use that same system to take advantage of another? To give somebody else the short end of the stick. You know, it's the same type of hypocrisy that would be like this. You would never want your child to go to school and be completely on the outside and can be bullied me who wants to, who wants that for their child? To have them make distinctions and for your child to be on the outside and to be told they're not good enough.
So then why would we do that to one another? Why would we in any way communicate something that can be so hurtful to each other? And yet we're so prone to do it, which is why James says you have to be mindful of this among you because it is not a small thing. And don't you remember what it feels like to be told you're not good enough? Don't you remember when you've been put on the outside? When you weren't welcome, when you were told to be an outsider, not an insider? Don't you remember what it's like to be the poor man? So he says, why would you dishonor the other poor man? But he says it also blasphemes the very name that has called them.
That's strong language. That it blasphemes, the very name of the God that has called you. And James tries to push their hypocrisy a little bit more and he does it by reminding them of the values of the God that they claim to serve. He says that he is the God that has chosen the foolish things of the world to display His kindness, His love, His mercy, and His grace. He's the God that has chosen the very things that the world rejects to be His prize possession, to be His children, to be His family.
And so how hypocritical is it for us if we challenged ourselves with that, with that set of values, if that is who God is and what he desires and how hypocritical is it for us to say that, you know, we're really trying to follow the God that has joyfully chosen to spend eternity with the very people that we can't even muster up the energy to have a five minute conversation with. Or just the hypocrisy of saying, “You know, yeah, sure, Jesus deemed them worthy of faith and his very life and death, but that person is just not worth my time.”
Hypocrisy, impartiality and faith just abounds, because in those moments is Jesus really your Master, your Messiah and your Judge?
James isn't done, but he almost is.
He has one more blow. He doesn't mess around with partiality in the church because our lack of love and our unwillingness to recognize it is enough to condemn you. He says in verse 13, "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy."
Now this is what James isn't saying. He's not saying, have you ever shown partiality and you're like, yeah, and he's like, you're going to hell. He's not saying that. What he's doing is he's trying to get to get you to a place in verses eight through 11 where you recognize you can't be selectively obedient. Okay? So he's bringing up the fact that you are showing partiality. You then can't say, “Oh, well, yeah, but I give a lot to the church, so that's okay.”
You can't really say, “Well, I serve in these areas so I get a pass in doing this.” He's saying, you can't do that with love. Why? Because if the entire law can be fulfilled by loving your neighbor as yourself, then that means you can completely throw it out into the proverbial trash by the fact that you don't love your neighbor. By the fact that love of your neighbor, true love of your neighbor is absent means that you have completely rejected the entirety of what God says is the law and what is good and righteous and holy. Which is why he would say if you do not endeavor to love, it is enough to condemn you. And the reality is that you would be judged with the same stick by which you judge others. And that's a really scary thought. To think that one day we will think everything is fine and we stand before Jesus and he says the same thing that perhaps we've said or our heart say to others, which is, you have nothing to offer me. You're not worth my time.
If you think about the importance of loving of your neighbor and that would be enough to condemn you, it's honestly frighteningly poetic if you think about it. Because Jesus would just end up saying, why would I invite you into eternal life with the very people that you don't want to spend any time with in this life? They're precious to me. You never once tried to treat them as though they were. You never tried to once consider them as more than something that doesn't fit in to your values or what you think is important. James hits hard. He's not messing around. I think it should make us feel uncomfortable because we should endeavor to be a community that doesn't show these types of things. That's why James doesn't leave us with just the heavy blows, but he gives us an Alternative to Partiality in verse 13.
He says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Now, you'd be surprised that a lot of commentators debate what this verse actually means because James doesn't really elaborate on it. You know, he has this whole section and then he ends it with mercy, triumphs over judgment and then he goes on.
But I think what James is after is that a community that's built on mercy is a community that is open to the community shaping power of the Spirit. And if the Spirit creates a community, it's far more beautiful than you know. It's far more beautiful than one that you would try to make yourself where we engage one another with the same mercy and compassion and love with which Christ has engaged us. And he would say that when the Spirit is at work, operating by the same way or when we operate, by the same way that Christ has engaged us, the Spirit is at work and what happens is you actually find something better than you thought.
You find somebody that you would have otherwise overlooked, but they ended up being one of your dearest friends. You ended up finding somebody that perhaps was a far greater encourager than you ever knew you needed or somebody to be a loyal, compassionate friend. Maybe some of you have never actually really had a true friend and the Spirit would want to give one to you. And a community that is built on mercy in the end is a life changing community.
But that is something that your community of judgment of others will never ever produce. He would invite us to experience the extraordinary community shaping power of the Spirit and to actually be surprised by the joy in life that He would offer us through the friendship and relationship with another. Mercy triumphs over judgment. And it certainly did in my life because I am the partial man. I was the partial man.
When I graduated college, I moved in with four guys, four of my dearest friends. And we, the five of us lived together for a number of years. And whenever I moved in, I knew that there was this man at our church that spent time with them over at their house. His name was Bill Tweedy. Bill Tweedy belongs either in a movie or a book somewhere because he was just one of those types of individuals. To give you an idea of who Bill was, Bill was about five feet tall, had terrible health. He was in his mid-fifties. He was homeless. Lived out of his car. He smelled. Bill reeked of cheap rolling tobacco. And Bill had the most extraordinary gift of saying the most inappropriate thing at the most inappropriate time and thinking it was absolutely hilarious. He was fantastic at cracking himself up. I remember there'd be so many times like Bill, you can't say that.
Okay, like that was a wonderful joke, but you can't say that. All right? That's inappropriate. So he would just be cackling and he had a really infectious laugh. Bill was one wild individual. And whenever I moved in I knew that he spent time around them, but I didn't know how much he spent time around my friends. I didn't know how much time he was over at this house cause whenever I got there I'd come home from work and Bill would be there. I'd be home first and there was Bill. He'd be watching TV, there'd be times I'd come home and he was in the fridge eating our food. And so it started to really annoy me. So I went to my friends and I said, do you know he's eating out of the food? He's just here at the house. And they're like, yeah, well he has a key.
We gave it to him and we told them that he can have whatever he wants out of our fridge, what's ours is his. I was like, hmm, fine. That's okay, but not my stuff. And I actually remember separating my stuff off and I started to hate Bill. All of my partiality started to come up out of my heart whenever I was around Bill. And seeing my friends love Bill the way that they did just seem to make my hatred grow.
And honestly I would think really dark thoughts, cruel thoughts. And I would just think Bill is just another poor man. Another cliche, just another dude homeless, unwilling to get a job, looking for a handout, blah, blah, blah. And that started to come out over time. And I was really mean to Bill. I was cruel. I would say things to him that would cut him down on purpose and I would just go after him and I would make him feel like he was unwelcome. These are my friends, Bill, why don't you leave? That was the message that I gave him.
And you know what Bill did? He just took it. He took all of it. All my contempt, my partiality, my favoritism, all of my anger towards him. And he was really kind to me. And I remember he knew that I was going through a hard time with some other circumstances in my life. And even though I treated him that way, he would still come up and he'd say, "Hey, how you doing? How's that situation?" And on the occasions that I would talk to him, he would just sit and he would listen. He just listened to me as I opened up. And then he said, he would remind me that he was praying for me. He was encouraging me. And you know, over time my heart towards Bill completely changed and I began to see a person and not just a poor man. And I began to actually learn a little bit more about Bill.
Bill chose to be homeless. The only reason he kept his car was because he knew where to find all of the homeless people in Columbia, Missouri, and it allowed him to get to each of them quicker because he would take them blankets on a cold night. And he would empty I, I've seen him, I saw him empty his pockets, all the money he had just to buy them enough McDonald's to get them through the next day. And to give them food. Bill loved the poor, Bill loved the outcast. I remember sitting with him late at night on multiple occasions and he would just cry because he would be telling the stories of these people that he cared about. Telling their stories of brokenness, how much they lost, and it broke his heart and he would just weep and how much he loved them. You know, India is one of the greatest gifts of my life to be able to serve the poor there.
Surely one of the greatest gifts, but that wasn't for me and anything that I do, honestly, Bill taught me how to do it. I owe that to Bill. And one of these days I'm going to tell him, you know, Bill's dead, but I want to tell him when I see him, if I remember in glory, “Bill, the Spirit sent me to you and you were life changing.” And he became a dear, dear brother to me and we were thick as thieves in this weird, age-defying, smelly, little ministry motley crew. We became a family, and it was because, Bill's mercy triumphed over my judgment.
Lord Jesus, we humble ourselves before your mercy, we ask that you would grace us at your table this morning. We ask that you would meet us here and remind us that you did not show partiality towards us and we cannot not possibly imagine the distance that was between us and you whenever you climbed off your throne and took on flesh. We thank you for your cross that shows us that we truly are loved. We truly have a new identity, and we truly are unified with our creator, our God, our Master, our Messiah, and our Judge. Would you meet us here this morning? It's in your name, we pray. Amen.