As we consider the second chapter of James today, the writer gives us another easily understood illustration, as he warns about an attitude of personal favoritism.
“My brothers and sisters, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and is dressed in bright clothes, and a poor man in dirty clothes also comes in, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the bright clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters: did God not choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the good name by which you have been called?” (verses 1-7)
We must note that James is not saying we should ignore the rich in our Christian outreach. But he is saying rich people should not be elevated above others because of their bank accounts.
The result of the sin of favoritism is found in verse 9. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Law as violators.”
So what is the solution? Verse 8– “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”
This is why I love the book of James. Simple and direct—easily understood.
A modern-day story I have heard several times fits right in here.
A Pastor transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000-member church where he was to be introduced as the head pastor that morning.
He walked around his soon-to-be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service– only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food — no one in the church gave him change.
He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people only to be greeted back with stares, dirty looks, and people looking down on him. As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements.
When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you our new Pastor.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him. He walked up to the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all that he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry, and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week.
I hope this story moves you as it moved me. And James reiterates these thoughts in verses 14-17.
“What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
Faith without works is dead. They go hand in hand, like salt and pepper, bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly. James’ impassioned words teach us that our faith should totally transform our lives and daily actions. Our faith should be reflected in the life we live. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” II Corinthians 5:17
James sums up his thoughts with two examples from the Old Testament, Abraham and Rahab. “Was our father Abraham not justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God.” (verses 21-23)
We cannot imagine the agony Abraham faced on that mountain, preparing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. But he had ultimate trust, FAITH, in God and followed through with WORKS, laying Isaac on the altar before the ram was revealed for the burnt offering. “And as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”
Such an unfathomable example of faith and works, Abraham was called the friend of God, an honor bestowed on no one else in Scripture.
“In the same way, was Rahab the prostitute not justified by works also when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (verse 25) The account of Rahab is found in Joshua 2. Rahab hid the two spies Joshua sent into Jericho. This daring deed brought a rewarding outcome for Rahab and her family, as they were saved when Jericho was defeated by the Israelites. Rahab’s faith and actions blessed her descendants as she is found in the genealogy of Jesus.
James concludes his thoughts with verse 26. “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
Without the breath of life, we are dead. Without a life of daily ACTIVE Christian living and service to others–our works— our faith is dead.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 47-48 and James 2