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Favoritism Forbidden August 20, 2015

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on James 2:1-13.

Summary: James begins by exhorting his readers – who profess the Christian religion – to not give more respect to one person than to another for no good reason. To drive home this point, he cites the example of an ecclesiastical court where a dispute between a gold-fingered man and a man with filthy raiment is being settled. If they observe the gold-fingered man with special reverence – while expressing contempt for the man with filthy raiment – then they show partiality; their esteem has been perverted by worldly desires.

James then lovingly attracts the attention of his readers; he states that God has singled out those who are abject in the opinion of the present world, that they might:

  • have a high degree of faith
  • receive the glory that He has promised to those who love Him.

Yet his readers have dishonored those who are abject in the opinion of the present world, even though gold-fingered men have abused their power against them and have acted violently toward them. Moreover, gold-fingered men have dishonored the honorable name of God – whom they call on.

Now James asserts that if his readers accomplish perfectly the law of God – who is the King of kings – that is set down in the Word, then they are not blameworthy. In contrast, those who show partiality to others are blameworthy. To drive home this point, he cites the hypothetical example of someone who is exact in all points of the law – except for one point where he is willingly inexact; that person would still be blameworthy. In particular, God punishes both adultery and murder with death; anyone who commits only one of these two sins is still subject to His punishment.

James then exhorts his readers to ensure that their words and deeds demonstrate that they have come under the privileges of the Gospel message. James concludes by stating that those who show partiality to others – including expressing contempt for those who are abject in the opinion of the present world – are still under the covenant of works; in contrast, the mercy of God rejoices over the justice of God for those who have come under the privileges of the Gospel message.

Thoughts: In this passage, James exhorts his readers to honor those who lack material wealth. Manton offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 5:

You who are poor, bless God; it is out of mercy that God should look on you. This comforts your poor state; rejected by the world, you are chosen by God. He who is happy in his own conscience should not be made miserable by other people’s judgment…Do not be discouraged though you are outwardly poor. The poor man is known to God by name.

After pondering this topic, I realized that most of my Christian friends belong to the upper middle class. This stems from the fact that I have attended several churches that mostly consist of white-collar workers. Thus, at church functions I mainly interact with information technology workers, medical professionals, or people who ply their trade in the corporate sector. I have only occasionally interacted with fellow believers who happen to be blue-collar workers, such as electricians and auto mechanics. I should also note that the average believer in my (First World) country is probably more wealthy than the average believer outside my country. Now I am not oblivious to the struggles of foreign believers, since I have heard a plethora of reports on this topic from missionaries on home assignment; yet I am certain that hearing these reports is no substitute for a first-hand experience of their struggles. Perhaps I need to heed the example of the believers who are featured in Radical, as they regularly travel to Third World countries to engage in acts of mercy.

In verse 13, James warns his readers that if they are not merciful to those who lack material wealth, then God will not be merciful to them. Manton offers some thoughts on this point:

I will show you what this mercy is. It is manifested…In contributing to needy people. It is not enough to say, “Keep warm.” (2:16)

Reading through this passage caused me to reflect on the social concerns ministry at my previous church, where I often helped serve meals to the homeless. I determined that serving meals to the homeless falls under the category of acts of mercy. In particular:

  • civil laws do not bind us to serve meals to the homeless (yet God does call us to show compassion to those who lack material wealth)
  • we pay for the food that we will prepare and serve
  • we pay for parking near the location of a particular soup kitchen
  • we donate our time and efforts, as this activity essentially occupies an entire afternoon and the early evening
  • we are not compensated – financially – for participating in this activity (yet we know that the homeless benefit from our actions, and God is pleased with us – assuming we have the correct motives).

Hopefully I can continue to participate in a similar ministry in the future.

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