J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 2:1-6

Big Idea:  Showing mercy is a test of your heart not anyone else’s.

James 2:1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

·    Partiality is when you like one person more than another person for reasons like their appearance or how many things they own.  Why do you think James does not want us to show partiality?
·    If Jesus is the Lord of Glory, He is the only one who should be glorified.  How does showing partiality give someone else glory?

2 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, 3 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,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

·    Why are we tempted to show favoritism to people who are dressed nicely?
·    Why would that be a sin?
·    What might this sin look like in our church today?

5 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? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

·    If God has chosen the poor in Spirit to receive the kingdom, how should we reflect that in dealing with people who are poor in wealth?
·    How can Sovereign King obey this verse?

We have all done it.  We have stopped at the stop light and right outside of our window is guy asking for money.  If we didn’t lock the doors already, we stealthfully locked them and then either judge the dude or assume he is making more money begging than we are working.  Let me move away from the stereotypical example.  You have been at work, at school, at dance class, at soccer, somewhere, maybe even right here at church, and you hear about someone in need.  Their life is mess.  They are making every bad decision in the world and are suffering from it.  You politely decline in your heart to get involved.

But maybe you meet someone who looks like you.  You’re white and they are white.  You’re whatever and they are whatever.  You like computers or sports and they do to.  Basically, they are bright shiny people just like all of us.  And you find out that they are in need.  In fact, a couple of bad things have happened, but it is not too messy, so you decide to get involved.  You offer them advice, maybe offer to meet their family, maybe you invite them to worship at SK.

You know what happened in both examples?  Your heart was revealed.  Showing mercy is a test of your heart, not anyone else’s.  When you see need, need that you by God’s grace and gifting you can help with, what  you do in response, says more about you than it does about the other person.  If you are more inclined to help your suburban neighbor than you are the guy on the street, you learned more about yourself didn’t you?  God, I’ll take some risks, but let’s make it safe why don’t we?

Well, last week, we heard James describe what the worship of God should look like.  Surprisingly, it didn’t involve many of the things that are traditionally considered religious like how much you study or how much you pray or what your Sabbath looks like.  No, James described showing mercy to those in need and doing in the midst of a sinful world.  Extending mercy without comprising Biblical convictions.  So this week, James continues to explain to us what our religion should like.  So let’s pursue this Big Idea:  Showing mercy is a test of your heart not anyone else’s.

James 2:1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 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, 3 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,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 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? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

James doesn’t pull any punches does he?  Let’s take this verse by verse and see what we can find.  Verse 1 makes an interesting connection.  James says

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

The way in which we hold to our faith, the way in which we persevere in giving glory to Jesus is by not showing partiality.  Now partiality can also be translated “favoritism” and the word literally means “to receive one’s face” which gives the idea of making judgments about people based on appearances.  James is saying we aren’t to show partiality or favoritism and the reason for this is demonstrated for us in the titles that James gives to Jesus.

He calls Jesus three different things.  He calls Jesus, his half-brother btw:  Lord, Christ, and Lord of Glory.  Jesus as Lord has every right to demand of us how to live and what to do.  He is Lord in title and Lord in practice.  Believers in Jesus submit to His Lordship.  His command is our will and our desire.  It is intended to be, and if it is not, then we are to repent of our will and of our desire to submit to His.

In addition, Jesus is Christ or another way of saying that is Jesus is Messiah.  Since every human being fails sinfully at following Jesus’ lordship, we stand in need of a Savior.  Jesus is Messiah in that He is the God-appointed, God-sent, obedient son who offers Himself as the sacrifice for our sin, and His resurrection assures new life and forgiveness and goodness for all who have faith in Him.

And this Lord Christ is also the Lord of Glory.  Now in the Greek there is some debate as to whether this should be translated “Lord Jesus Christ the Glory” or “Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory”  Either way, each puts forth the same idea.  The Greek word for “Glory” means weight, substance, maybe even gravitas.

Jesus deserves the weight of glory and that is the same as the glory of God the Father.  John 1: And (Jesus) the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  Jesus took on human flesh yet retained all the glory of God.  One theologian (RC Sproul) described it in this way.  He said that God’s glory is the manifestation of all His holiness, beauty, and goodness.  So, “As we think on the Lord’s glory, let us be concerned to reflect His beauty and goodness in all that we do and say.”

So only Jesus is to receive glory.  When we show partiality, we are giving someone other than Jesus glory.  So Jesus as Lord, as Savior, and as the manifestation of God’s glory, commands us to show no partiality as we hold to our faith in Him.  Now, why?  Haven’t we said the commands of God reflect the character of God?  And if they do, how does this command reflect God’s character?   Romans 2 explains that for us.

Romans 2:11 For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

God approaches each human being in light of the fact that we are sinners.  Our sin is rebellion against the nature and character of God, so God doesn’t see anyone as better than another because everyone has sinned against the law of God.  Everyone.  So God is not impressed with anyone’s supposed obedience.  So when God shows mercy, He is doing it not impressed with some who think they have obeyed well and not more upset with others.  All of us have sinned all the time against an all-knowing God.  That is who we are when God pours out His mercy.

What James is recommending to us here is that we should approach everyone without partiality.  God didn’t forgive us because we were obedient and good.  God poured His mercy out on no matter our status.  That is the way we are to approach others – we should pour our mercy out on everyone and not be impressed by anything.  Now, you might say, “Gordon, no one impresses me.  I would never do that.  What is James talking about?”  Fortunately, he tells us in verse 2.

2 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, 3 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,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5

James presents a scenario where a church is gathering for worship just like this one and two men show up as visitors.  One of them is dressed nicely and has expensive jewelry.  The other is a poor man dressed in shabby clothes.  Now, what happens next is folks are quick to greet the well-dressed man.  You give the tour of the place.  Show him where the bulletins and the good and the restrooms are.  You welcome him to find a nice sit.  But to the poor man, notice what it says.  “If you pay attention to him.”  A lot of folks won’t.  He smells.  Who is that guy, you ask.  But if you do speak to him, you don’t even give him a seat.

James say you have made a distinctions based on worldly things.  Your thoughts are worldly.  You are a judge with an evil thought.  Essentially, James is saying that this is a real temptation and therefore a real threat to the worship of God and the exercising of your faith.

Each and everyone one of you, myself included, is going to be tempted show partiality to the wealthy and to judge the poor.  Even if we just think more of the folks that are in similar socio-economic levels as ourselves and thus judge those below us we fall into this sin.  In light of our politics, our views on welfare, our views on taxing, in light of those political convictions, we often get our biblical convictions mashed up and confused.  James isn’t concerned at all about your view of welfare and taxes.  Here, he doesn’t care who you voted for and he is definitely not impressed with how hard you work or how you can take great joy in earning your income.  James just hates bigotry and can’t stand judgmental, self-righteousness.

James just calls it a sin whenever you make distinctions between yourself and others and between the rich and the poor.  Your favoritism of anyone because of their status or what they have earned belies a misunderstanding of the Gospel.  If you favor bright shiny people over dirty, shabby people, then you have forgotten that God poured His grace out on you while you were yet a shabby sinner.

The two thoughts, how you see yourself receiving God’s grace and how you perceive others are inextricably related.  The Lord Jesus Christ wasn’t impressed with anyone and neither should you be.  As you hold onto faith in Him, reflect His character and show mercy and grace without favoritism or partiality.  Tim Keller, perhaps the wisest voice in our day on this subject speaks well of this in his book “Generous Justice” – he says.

Our compassion for the poor, our desire to see justice done, our drive to reconcile the world to Him, our feeding of the hungry, clothing of the poor, comforting of the sick, welcoming of the foreigner, and visiting of those in prison is a profound response to all that we have received from God. Even when they are dirty and broken, deserving of their state, seemingly to “blame”, unloveable, undeserving and ungrateful – because that is exactly how we were when God LAVISHED his love on us. Our response then is a right and fitting response to the grace we have received. Our lack of response is indicative of a lack of understanding of the grace we have received. A full understanding of God’s grace COMPELS us to respond in kind to those around us. Not doing so demonstrates that we have not fully grasped God’s grace towards us.

We show mercy as a response to the mercy we have received in Jesus Christ.  Even if the people that we bump into are dirty and broken and at fault for their condition, we show mercy to them.  Why?  Because we were dirty and broken and at fault for our condition before God.  And God lavished His love on us.

You will be merciful to those in need to the extent that you understand how in need you were when Jesus was merciful to you.  A full understanding of those two things:  our desperate need and God’s incredible grace will compel us to be merciful to even the most faulty, needy person.  Not demonstrating mercy demonstrates that we do not fully grasp God’s grace.

We come to a transition in this section of James though.  Tell me this.  Have you ever been in a discussion with someone, and they responded to your words by saying, “Now listen”?  How does that normally go for you?  Makes you angry doesn’t it?  I think the reason it makes us angry is that we feel like we are being corrected or that the other person doesn’t respect our viewpoint.  Well, James is correcting us and he doesn’t respect your viewpoint.  He says

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? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

What kind of poor man are we talking about here?  Spiritually poor or earthly poor?   The answer is “yes” or “both”  God has elected that the poor in spirit in this world will be rich in faith and an heir of His kingdom which he promised to those who love Him.  This of course echoes Jesus’ comment, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:3

God chose people who have absolutely nothing by which to recommend themselves.  There weren’t any really good folks, and there weren’t any folks who were rich in good works.  God chose His children out of those who had nothing, had not hope to be loved or forgiven or transformed.

Now, we are to take that spiritual reality and reflect in an earthly reality.  The living out of our faith, the pure undefiled religion that God accepts is this.  Do not dishonor those who are poor and honor the rich.  It is not poor people who oppress you; it is the rich.  They have the power to take you into court and to sue you.  They blaspheme the name of Jesus as they trust in themselves and not God.

Now, you might hear this and begin to feel uncomfortable.  If you weren’t with us a few weeks ago, remember rich is only rich by comparison.  A family of four in America at what is considered the poverty line is still richer than 98% of the rest of the world.  It is probably wise for us to consider ourselves rich here.

You might ask, “Isn’t it better to be rich than to be poor?”  Well, remember, no one recommends themselves to God and God shows no partiality.   But wealth is an idol in and of itself.  Like Jesus said in Matthew 19:23 “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

No, James is saying, “Listen, apart from the grace of God, the rich are going to oppress and the poor are going to be oppressed.”  Yes, maybe the rich man was smarter and yes, maybe the poor man was irresponsible, but that doesn’t matter because you are not to show favoritism, even if people make good, smart decisions.  View every single person as one made in the image and likeness of God just as James commands us in chapter 3.  Any inherent worth that a human being has does not come from their wealth or their accomplishments or their beauty of their appearance.  It comes from the fact that they are created in the image of God.   That image is marred by sin, but in the likeness of God nonetheless.

James is imploring the church and therefore imploring us to care for the poor.  And if we aren’t actively seeking out and showing mercy to those in need, we are therefore inherently showing favoritism to those whose needs are as apparent, or the rich as he calls them.  I have told this story before, so if you have heard it, please bear with me as it bears telling again.

When I quit my job at the eye doctors office to go to seminary full-time and prepare for ministry, my family endured a lot of changes.  We went from 2 cares to 1.  We went from $50,000 a year to less than $20,000.  We went from great insurance to really, barely pay anything insurance.  Then we discovered that Amy was pregnant with Landry.  Then Amy’s sister had to move in to help us pay the bills.

And Christmas rolled around.   In fact, it was mid December, and we had an artificial Christmas tree but we didn’t have any presents.  And then came a knock at our door.  Standing there was my buddy Trevor who worked with the Marines.  He had three giant bags of toys and he said he was there representing toys with tots.  I said, “Cool, who in the neighborhood are you giving them to?”  And his answer to my surprise was, “You.”  My heart of hearts wanted to fight it, but the reality was, we were poor.  We were poor as dirt and the only way we would give our kids presents was by these guys grace.

Their mercy demonstrated to us the great mercy of Jesus, and that moment we will never forget.  But James is going even further in his commands.  Yes, we should be meeting the needs of those in our community, both SK and surrounding.  Yes, we should be finding out who is in need and meet that need.

But we should do more as well.  We should be seeking justice in the lives of those who are poor and oppressed by the rich.  Let me help reset this for us.  Last week, James asked, “What is pure and undefiled religion that God accepts?”  His answer was to show mercy to show mercy to widows and orphans and keep yourself unblemished in a sinful world.  Essentially, we are to show extend mercy to those in need and to those who oppressed and take advantage of because of their poverty.  We then looked at Isaiah 1 when this truth was demonstrated.

When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?  13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.  New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.  14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts  my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.  15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers,     I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

The people of Isaiah’s day were just like us right now.  They were coming to worship God in their assemblies just like we are right now.  They were observing the Sabbath just like many of you are observing the Lord’s Day today.  They were praying just like we have been praying.

And God detested their worship.  Why?  Because their’s was restricted to their community and themselves.  Their worship hemmed in in every area by the size of their own life.  It was personal, family, community worship, and God rejected it because their worship did not extend to showing mercy to those in need.  They were looking to do justice in the lives of the needy.

That my friends means they were showing partiality to the wealthy, those without need, to those who were doing just fine.  Neglect of caring for those in need is partiality and favoritism to the beauty and the wealthy and it is a continuation of the injustice and neglect that those in need suffer from.  So God didn’t bless the worship of the people in Isaiah, even though they were obedient to the Sabbath and the festivals and the offerings.  Why?  Because their worship was determined by the sphere of their life and not by extension of worship in service to those in need.

Can we be guilty of that same sin?  I don’t how to make it any more clear than by saying, “Yes.”  Again, Keller helps in this understanding.

“The logic is clear. If a person has grasped the meaning of God’s grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn’t live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God’s grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn’t care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn’t understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.” (Generous Justice, p. 94)

If this community doesn’t actively meet the needs of the poor and actively seek to make their lives better from the injustices of those who oppress them, not only do we not understand our great need and how it was met by God’s grace, then we may very well be offering worship to God that is unacceptable.

We can observe the Sabbath without fail.  We can have the most orthodox theology the world has ever known.  We can offer sweet prayers and have incredible Bible studies.  The question is, “Can our worship of God be described as showing mercy and doing justice to those in need?”

If not, we are called to the exact same repentance that the people of Isaiah were called to in.

Isaiah 1:16  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s case.

Repent and cease to do evil.  Learn to do good.  Seek justice for those who are being taken advantage of.  Correct oppression when you see it.  Bring justice to millions of kids today that grow up without fathers.  Plead the case of the woman whose husband has died and how she can’t pay the bills.

You say, “Gordon, I don’t know any of those folks,” and I will say that precisely the point.  We must quit favoring the rich and only associating ourselves with our tight knit group of friends who look like us, make money like us, believe like us, quit showing favoritism.  I’m asking, no the passage is exhorting, you and I in this way.  Quit being oppressive by ignoring those who are being oppressed.  Quit isolating yourself into wonderful Christian safe environments that look Godly in religious observance but lack the depth of religious worship that is extending mercy to those in need.

Again, this is not the SK plan to grow.  Actively seeking out mercy to meet, to be extended, seeking out oppression to be lifted is worship.  It is the necessary other portion of what we do here, and our worship we only be as rich and as deep as can be when we do both things:  worship here and worship out there.

Micah 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  7  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

How shall we worship our God?  Big huge acts of praise and incredibly acts of discipline?

8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Gang, I’m for Bible Instruction.  I’m for prayer.  I’m for Lord’s Day Observance and family devotions.  I’m completely for our church’s doctrine and form of government.  But what if demonstrated we knew the Gospel first by acts of mercy instead of acts of personal piety?  What if we showed our children the essence of the gospel by serving those in need?  What if the burden that we had for each other was not how many people we could serve in corporate worship but how many we could serve in our community?

Advertisements

February 26, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: