James 2:1-13 (NIV)
1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.
2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.
3 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,”
4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers: 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?
6 But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?
7 Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
9 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.
11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12 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!
What are the take-aways from this passage?
v. 1 “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” Whenever James starts a sentence “my brothers” he’s getting ready to nail you. Count on it! He’s talking about prejudice, partiality, favoritism. The New English Bible calls it “snobbery”. Don’t be a snob. A snob is somebody whose nose turns up when their eyes look down, somebody who always thinks they’re better than everybody else. The Greek word is a compound word that means “to receive” and “to face”. It literally means “to receive somebody’s face” — to receive somebody at face value, on the basis of how they look, superficial judgement. James says, “Don’t do that. Don’t accept people just on superficial judgements.” The Good News says, “Never treat anybody in a different way according to their outward appearance.” It’s a common social disease.
James says there are three problems with favoritism.
1. Favoritism is unchristian. If you want to be like Jesus you can’t play favorites. “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” Faith and favoritism are incompatible — we’re a family. This word “favoritism” is used only four times in the Bible. Every other time it’s referring to God and it says, “God does not play favorites.” Romans 2:11 says, “God does not show favoritism” Jesus treated everybody with dignity.
2. Favoritism is unreasonable. In v. 5-7 he says it’s illogical, it doesn’t make sense. “In the first place,” he says, “God has chosen the poor.” “Has not God chosen the poor to be rich in faith and inherit the kingdom?” He’s not saying that it’s good to be poor and bad to be rich. He’s not saying that only the poor will be saved. Everybody in our church is rich compared to the majority of the world. It doesn’t make any difference to God. Aren’t you glad your salvation isn’t based on your savings account
3. Favoritism is unloving. That’s why you shouldn’t do it. “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ you’re doing right.” Why is it called the royal law? Because if we obeyed that one we wouldn’t need all of the rest. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14 says, “All the law is summed up in one sentence, `Love your neighbor as yourself’.” If I play favorites I’m being unloving.
v. 9 “If you show favoritism you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” How many laws do you have to break to be a lawbreaker? One. How many crimes do you have to commit to become a criminal? One. How many links do you have to break to break a chain? One. Have you ever been in a china shop that has the sign “You break it, you’ve bought it.” They don’t care if it’s broken in one place or into a thousand pieces, if you broke it you bought it.
James is saying that people think favoritism is such a small sin. But, he says, if you break God’s rule, you break God’s rule. Be careful it’s serious business.
Love treats people with mercy. Love gives people what they need, not what they deserve. James is probably thinking about his half-brother Jesus who said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.”