James 2:1-13 – Part Three

We’re currently studying the letter of James, which is all about the temptation to be double-minded: trying to be friends with God and friends with the world. This is part three of a three-part look at James 2:1-13 – if you’re just joining us, check out last Friday’s post first.

A sobering warning

Now when we read Bible passages  like this one we’ve been studying for the past three days, we often miss making an important connection. Sin isn’t just doing something that’s wrong. Sin is also not doing something that’s right. But we often forget that to ignore God’s word in this way is sin. Or we’re tempted to dismiss these kinds of sins as ‘little ones’ at best. ‘Favouritism’ – doesn’t sound like a capital crime, now, does it?

Yet James concludes this section by reminding us that if we break even one little part of the law, we are lawbreakers:

2:9-10  But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 

Once again, he seems to have paid attention to his brother:

Mt 5:18-19 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 

On the one hand, the bible teaches that some sins are more grievous than others. But it also affirms that even the smallest of sins is an affront to the same holy God, and reason enough to be deserving of death. Don’t be tempted to think that as long as you don’t commit the biggies, that you can play around with the smaller, less obvious sins. Anyone who sins – even in the smallest of ways – is still a sinner.

And when we show favouritism, we are consciously or unconsciously judging another person. We are favouring some and condemning others. This is ridiculous, because in they eyes of God we are all unacceptable. Yet God has accepted us. How, then, can we not accept someone else?

It’s like Jesus’ parable of the person who was forgiven a large debt that he owed to the king. But this person went straight out and refused to forgive a small debt that someone else owed him. The king then says:

Mt 18:33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

The king then sends the man to gaol. Jesus ends the parable by saying:

Mt 18:35 This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

James seems to have this idea in mind when he warns us not to judge others and show favouritism:

2:12-13 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

How can we judge others by petty, human standards when God, in his mercy, is not going to judge us by his standards?

For James, this kind of attitude – showing favouritism in the church – is another example of double-mindedness. Of claiming to believe in God, but not demonstrating it in our actions (as we’ll look at tomorrow). Of saying that now we are Christians we are all equal in the eyes of God, but not behaving like it in our dealings with others.

Author David Nystrom, commenting on this passage (NIV Application Commentary), tells of when he was at a function of his church’s denomination. There was a number of people – professional hospitality staff – who were serving food and drinks to the invited guests, but still it wasn’t being served quickly enough. So David stepped in and helped serve some drinks. While doing this he tried to engage a man in conversation, but the man repeatedly ignored him and ended up walking off. A little while later, during the meeting, the Master of Ceremonies introduced David as ‘our next speaker and resident New Testament specialist’. He could see the other guy’s jaw drop. Afterwards, this man made a great show of greeting David, acting like their previous encounter hadn’t happened. He concludes: ‘In his mind, a “New Testament specialist” is to be accorded more honour than the employee of a hotel.’ James, again, would disagree.

To think about

Let’s pray that God would give us the wisdom – the moral will – to avoid this kind of double-mindedness.

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