The Danger of Superficial Distinctions: James 2

I. The Dangers of Superficial Distinctions (2.1-7)

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 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, 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,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the 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 were called?

  • “partiality” – literally, “to accept the face of”, meaning to show favoritism, partiality, etc.
  • “show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” – to play favorites goes against the very nature of the inclusivity of an exclusive gospel, meaning, the offer of salvation goes out to everyone, and we all are saved through the same means…Jesus’ death on the cross. The goal of the gospel according to Revelation 7.9-10 –After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
  • We make superficial distinctions because of a variety of different ways, but here James uses economic distinctions.
  • One reason we don’t divide segregate ourselves from others is sen in verse 5. We don’t know what God might be doing in the lives of other people. In James’ day, they would assume that the wealthy person is experiencing the blessings of God, while the poor person isn’t, that’ s one of the reasons the disciples were so shocked when Jesus proclaimed it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to be saved and responded with, “Then who can be saved?!”
  • Another reason we don’t exercise partiality and favoritism is seen in verse 6. We dishonor the image of God in that individual. Why are we so adamant about abortion, because we feel that the killing of unborn children is murder and that all life is to be honored because each person is made in the image of God and should be honored as such. When we show favoritism, we are choosing who is and who isn’t worthy of honor.
  • Third, inverses 6 and 7, favoritism shows a lack of faith in God’s ability to change others and provide for you.

II. A Biblical Remedy

A. Love Your Neighbor (2.8)

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

  • No doubt a reference to Jesus’ teaching in the Luke 10.

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 And the next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

  • Also consider Jesus’ on actions with the woman at the well in John 4:

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”(For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.)The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

  • What do we notice about love from these two stories? Many things for sure, but one that I think that is most important for us today is that love is proactive. It does not assume someone else will act on another’s behalf. The responsibility is place upon me.

B. Judge As God Judges (2.9-11)

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.

  • As James mentioned earlier in verse 4, when we judge others and deem some more favorable than others, we are judging with “evil thoughts.” In other words our judgment is cloudy and inconsistent.
  • Consider Romans 2.11:

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works:to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;but for those who are self-seeking[a] and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.1For God shows no partiality.

  • We can’t pass judgment on others as guilty, and omit our own sin of partiality.

C. Live The Law of Liberty (2.12)

12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.

  • Here’s the question, what is the law of liberty? We’re not really told by James what it is, but he assumes his audience is well aware.
  • I think Galatians 5.13 can shed some light on this dilemma to help us.

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

  • James’ argument seems to be that we should conduct ourselves in regards to partiality with a way that is consistent with the gospel. and that means loving and serving others.

D. Mercy Makes More Mercy (2.13)

13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

  • Consider Jesus’ words in Luke 7:

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

  • To battle the sin of partiality, it begins with our understanding of God’s mercy in our own life.