There's a "thumbs up" in life...and a "thumbs down." Let's practice the right heart gestures through James chapter 2:
1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old 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?
- “Discrimination” is a word – unfortunately – that is frequently experienced in our broken society. I was reading a book recently and it talked about how the root of discrimination is dehumanization. We stick labels on people in the name of politics, social class, lifestyle, gender, religion, ethnicity, etc. and in our effort of being right, we fail to remember that we are human. Broken. Hurting. Each in need of powerful redemption.
- Of course, accountability plays into this. We’re all held accountable for our actions, which we’ll learn about more as we study the book of James. But, the topic of favoritism isn’t something present only in today’s world – it is a heart issue and has existed since the fall of man.
- 1 Samuel 16:7 reads, “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’” God searches the heart and examines the mind (Jeremiah 17:10). While we are not all-knowing, if we’re open to hearing God speak to us about others, we may be provided with whispers of wisdom that help us understand others in a way we otherwise would’ve rejected. Again, I’m not speaking in terms of ignoring people’s behavior – we are all held accountable. However, it’s not our place to label, cast blame, or judge. That’s a “say easy, do hard” discipline. Lord, give us wisdom to see others like You do. Help us to love – even when we don’t agree – and be willing to let Your light shine.
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: 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 dishonored 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 blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
- In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” God has a special blessing on the poor – and each one of us are spiritually bankrupt. F.B. Meyer once said, “The rich man may trust Him; but the poor man must…the poor man has no fortress in which to hide, except the two strong arms of God.”
- God has chosen the poor, just as God chose for Jesus to be born to parents too poor to present more than two doves at his presentation in the temple (Luke 2:22). He hasn’t not chosen the rich, but it does seem that He chose the poor first. As John Calvin once said regarding God’s choice of the poor: “Not indeed alone, but he wished to begin with them, that he might beat down the pride of the rich.” Father, America is a rich country and we don’t all understand true poverty as some may. We ask for humility and understanding, so that our pride in us might be beat down and our sinful nature redeemed by Your holy work. Help us to give freely and with love.
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, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
- Most of us were probably taught – or at least heard about – the Golden Rule: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” This is an off-shoot of the “royal law” that’s referred to here in verse 8 as “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Again, another “say easy, do hard” verse – especially when our neighbor is a jerk (See, this is me labeling people and dehumanizing others; obviously, there’s plenty of heart work that needs done in me.) Have you ever thought about this royal law? We can say it, but man, I struggle to live it out loud. Think about how much you think about yourself, your life, or what you’re going to do next. We love ourselves – a lot. Even if we have poor self-image or fight against a great deal of “negative self-talk” – it’s still pride. You’re still thinking about you, it’s simply manifesting itself differently.
- We must practice Truth. You won’t spring out of bed tomorrow morning and have this “love your neighbor as yourself” action down pat. Just like you don’t wake up one day and think, “I’ll commit adultery today” having never entertained it previously. Sin is a slow fade, and likewise, we can’t expect the transformative work of Christ to take place instantaneously. 2 Corinthians 3:18 continues to anchor me when I’m learning to walk in the footsteps of Jesus: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” What this verse speaks to is how we are being transformed from the glory of the old Law to the glory of grace (sanctification). You have an “unveiled face” concerning Christ – meaning, you have unceasing access to Jesus. How often do you take advantage of this privilege? David Guzik says this (and I think it’s powerful): Everyone wants to know, “How can I change?” Or, everyone wants to know, “How can they change?” The best and most enduring change comes into our lives when we are transformed by time spent with the Lord. There are other ways to change, such as guilt, willpower, or coercion, but none of these methods bring change that is as deep and lasts as long as the transformation that comes by the Spirit of God as we spend time in the presence of the Lord.”
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.
- I feel like this sentence from verse 13 should be tattooed on our faces so we can walk around and just see it wherever we go: “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Mercy is defined as “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm” (thanks, Google). Jesus had a better approach and He talks about it in Hebrews 10:16 which says, "This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds." God Almighty, inscribe these words on our hearts and write them on our minds!
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
- Remember in the intro video we talked about how James was the apostle of works? It didn’t mean that he didn’t have faith. He absolutely believed in the saving grace of Christ Jesus and that is stated in his introduction to this letter. However, James knew that works or deeds were a natural overflow of a transformed life in Christ. If there’s no fruit on the tree, it’s good for some shade but it won’t nourish those who pass by. Are you producing ripe and refreshing fruit for those who walk by your cube at work, into your classrooms, or come into your home or church? Own where you are and then spend time with the Lord and be transformed!
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
- “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). As Wiersbe puts it, faith is not some kind of nebulous feeling that we work up; faith is confidence that God’s Word is true and conviction that acting on that Word will bring His blessing and transformative work.
- Okay, so the demon reference in verse 19 is probably making you scratch your head. Good (as long as it’s not lice)! Be curious. Wonder. Ponder. Dig a little. James made this powerful statement to shake up the people, and it should shake you, too. Friends, demons believe in God. They aren’t atheist or agnostic – they believe in God and bore witness to His sonship in Mark 3:11-12. So, if you believe in God, that’s fantastic. The demons believe just like you – and they tremble. Meaning, they know God is powerful. But faith is not an emotion. As mentioned above and talked about in Hebrews 11, faith is confidence that God’s Word is true and conviction that acting on that Word will bring His blessing and transformative work. The demons did believe in God, but it is not a saving experience to believe and tremble. It’s a decision. It’s a choice. And it’s one you don’t want to ignore or simply say, “I believe” and then walk away with your church-notarized salvation certificate or 4x6 baptism photo they pin on the cork board in the fellowship hall. That’s not it. It’s a decision you make between yourself and the God of this universe and you are either following Him or you’re not. Don’t lie to yourself. We talked about that last week – we must own where we are. It’s okay. Be real with yourself and with God. Tell Him where you’re at (as if He doesn’t already know) and confess just like the woman at the well. He’ll take you where you are in life and He’s ready for your decision. It’s not just believing and trembling – even the demons believe. Don’t be foolish.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
- Well, speaking of not being foolish, James is going to give it to us straight (again). I mentioned in the purpose video that the best commentary on the New Testament is the Old Testament, and vice versa. In these verses, James is proving this out by using Abraham as an example. Abraham was justified by faith (in God) long before he sacrificed Isaac. However, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son was a demonstration of his faith. Abraham knew in his heart that God could raise Isaac from the dead. (As a side note, this act was a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. Abraham, like God, was willing to sacrifice his only son, yet God provided a sacrifice in honor of Abraham’s obedience. God always makes a way.)
- Dead faith – or faith that has no works – is no faith at all. We don’t need to go around like the The Walking Dead here on earth. We’re called to be alive with faith, naturally accompanied by our good works.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
- Here is James’ second example of living faith – Rahab the harlot (a Gentile, unlike Abraham who was a Jew). In Joshua 2:8, we’re told of how Rahab hid the Israelite spies. She had heard of what the Lord had done for the Israelite people (i.e., dried up the water of the Red Sea, destroying the wicked people, etc.), and she chose to not only believe in their God, but also demonstrate her faith by keeping the Israelite men safe. She was a doer, not just a hearer. Let’s practice the same each day. Amen.
I had so much fun this last week sharing my 7 Simple Essentials! As mentioned on Facebook and Instagram, to be eligible, all you had to do was sign up to receive the Bible studies via email. This is so you don’t miss a study and can study God’s word book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse.
Now, for the random winners (insert suspenseful music here):
1. The SELF Journal. ALISHA DAVIS!
2. Custom Llama Cup. KAREN ROSTINE!
3. 1 pound of coffee from Brick and Mortar Coffee. CHRISTIE MCLAUGHLIN!
4. DNA of Relationships book by Gary Smalley. AMANDA GARDNER!
6. Essential oil lotion bars by Next to Godliness. LEANN CALLAWAY!
7. NIV Beautiful Word Coloring Bible or similar journalling Bible. LACEY WALLACE!
If you won, I'll email you directly to obtain your mailing address! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org in case you need it. Be sure to post pictures of what you received. This was so much fun for me -- I hope you loved it, too.