The Central Issue In How We Treat Others

Tell me, do you have a favorite food? What about a favorite store? Favorite color? Favorite brand? Is it okay to have favorites?

Is it okay to show favoritism towards people?

James 2:1

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.

That’s pretty straightforward. What does it mean to show favoritism?

Partiality, prejudice, I’m/we’re better than you. Giving preferential treatment.

Who is James talking to?

Believers. Christians.

James 2:2-4

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. 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,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

What do these two people have in common?

They’re both believers, and that means they’re brothers.

In James’ example, what is being judged?

Who’s more valuable.

Is that right? Why or why not? What’s happening?

Discrimination and judgmentalness. FirstNLR‘s slogan is simple and we live it out, Every Soul Matters To God. I remember a few years ago after the third service while I was cleaning the sanctuary, I saw a United States Senator talking to Pastor Rod. At the same time, Pamela, part of our Deaf Church, was walking towards them, wanting to introduce a Deaf guest to Pastor Rod. In a wonderful example of not showing favoritism, P. Rod didn’t ignore them in order to talk to a powerful individual but spoke with them just as long as he talked to the Senator. I gained a lot of respect for P. Rod that day. Don’t you like people who treat you as equals no matter if you’re rich or poor, popular or not?

James 2:5

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?

Remember last week when we talked about God’s concern for the widows and orphans? Remember what that says about the heart of God?

James 2:6-7

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? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

What’s happening to the people James is writing to?

They’re being discriminated against and abused.

What are they doing?

The same thing.

James 2:8

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.

Did you notice what James called it?

The royal law. Why?

It’s part of the two greatest commandments. It’s also in the Law God gave Moses in Leviticus 19:18, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”

What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself?

Having concern for others when it doesn’t benefit me and doing things for their benefit. Anyone remember in John 15:12 where Jesus says how people will be able to tell if we’re Christ-followers? ‘To love others as I’ve loved you, this is how people will know you’re mine, by your love.

James 2:9

But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

How is favoritism sin? Have you ever given someone preferential treatment? Why?

James 2:10-11

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 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.

How many sins do you have to commit to be a sinner?

One. Just one. I want you to look at verse 11, murder and adultery, they have something in common. What is it?

It’s a lack of love. Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

All the Law hangs on these two commandments. Look at the 10 Commandments, what’s at the heart of them? Love. It’s all about love. The entire Bible has love as an underlying theme. We were created to share in the love of God, he didn’t need us. In his love, He sent Jesus to reconcile us with Him.

James 2:12-13

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, Freedom from sin because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Verse 12, what does James mean? Hint, James references the Sermon on the Mount a lot.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

It means that God will judge us the way we judge others. He doesn’t play favorites, ever. We serve a merciful God, which is good because none of us deserve it. He also expects us to be merciful.

Look at Matthew 5:7 and 6:14: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Mercy wins. We have to be merciful because we want God to be merciful. What does this tell us about God’s heart? He wants to forgive and save us. When we don’t love others, we’re running contrary to God’s heart. Romans 3:25-26 is God’s mercy for us in action while His justice is still served.

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

What are you going to do this week to love others? Is there a grudge you need to let go of, or someone you need to forgive today as you model the heart of God?

What Does A Christ-Follower Look Like?

What’s one of the biggest charges non-believers aim at Christians? It’s hypocrisy. Christ-followers that talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. It’s not a new problem, James dealt with it too in James 1:19-27.

James 1:19-20

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

What’s James saying here?

What’s the opposite?

What should we do?

Proverbs says a lot about controlling your tongue. Proverbs 10:19 says, “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” Look at anger in verse 20. One translation I read described anger as resentful, deep-seated anger. A grudge.

Who’s good at holding grudges? I am. Is that good?

No.

Why?

It hurts you more than who you’re angry with. It hurts you physically and psychologically and it also hurts you spiritually.

What should you do? Forgive them, refuse to get even and let it go, like the song from Frozen. This is what Jesus said about forgiveness, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14)

Is the grudge worth eternity? The time this was written was a time of political unrest. The tensions between the Jews and Romans were rising, and in less than 20 years the temple would be destroyed by the Roman Empire. Think about today’s politics, it’s sticky, and the internet makes it easy to attack people.

Is it Christ-like to do that? Why should we listen carefully, choosing our words carefully and patiently, reflective, and forgiving?

Is all anger wrong? What kind of anger isn’t wrong? Anger at injustice and sin that hurts others. Not when our ego is hurt and we’re offended.

James 1:21

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James is pretty vivid. What does he want you to do?

Turn away from what morally contaminates you. Like what Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

“What does he mean by ‘word’? God’s word. The seed that is planted in us and grows.

James 1:22

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

What does it look like to merely listen to the word, but not do what it says? How would we be fooling ourselves?

It’s in the action, not the listening. I can sit in church every service but if I don’t take that step to follow Christ and obey him, I’ve done nothing. I could not call myself a Christ-follower. James is explaining what God wants to see in our lives.

James 1:23-25

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

How easy is it to forget what someone tells you? What if you immediately put it into practice every day? That’s what James is talking about.

What is the perfect law that gives freedom? The law of Christ.

What is it freeing us from? Sin and death. Salvation frees us from sin’s control and we are free to live as God created us, to obey Him in gratitude. Jesus, in John 13:17 says, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

James 1:26

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

I wish James would tell us what he really thinks. Why is your religion worthless if you can’t control what you say?

James 1:27

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

What does James mean by “religion”? He uses it a lot. I looked at the Amplified translation and it said being religious is being scrupulously observant of the rituals of your faith. The Greek word means piety.

What rituals do we have as Christians? Baptism. Communion. Attending church.

So if we only observe the rituals listed, and we don’t love others and do good, what does that say about our walk as Christ-followers?

Why did James single out widows and orphans? All through the Bible are verses about God’s concern for them. Deuteronomy 10:18 tells us God defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the foreigner living among you, giving them food and clothing.

Amos 2:6-7 and 5:21-24 has God pronouncing judgment on Israel for not caring for the widows and orphans, and hollow ritual. Isaiah 1:17 says learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless. Plead the case for the widow.

Back then they didn’t have a large support network to care for them. What does this tell us about God? God loves those that society rejects and looks down on because every soul matters to God.

Did you know that Jesus identifies with those in trouble? There is a parable in Matthew 25 called the parable of the sheep and goats. Matthew 25:36 Jesus says, “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.” In verse 40 he says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Food banks? It’s like we’re feeding Jesus. Working with the homeless? The Call? Orphanages. Caring for the sick? When you do this, Jesus considers it the same as doing it for him. When we’re in a bad situation, Jesus identifies with us, he says he understands. This makes me think, how do I feel when someone helps one of my family members? That’s what God feels when we help someone.

This is part of the perseverance we discussed in the last post. It’s doing the next right thing, applying Jesus’ teaching to our lives. In this passage, James is telling us what the attitude and behavior of a Christ-Follower look like. That’s someone who thoughtfully listens, chooses their words carefully, doesn’t overreact, and listens to and obeys God because He saved them. They care about what God cares about.

This week, I want you to check yourself against this grid. What can you do right now to do what it says?

Having An Enduring Faith Through Times of Trouble

I was given the opportunity to teach the Deaf Connections class on Sundays. Having only taught once, I wanted to start with something ‘simple and practical’ like James. Except James pummels you like a boxer, and then helps you up. After preparing a few lessons, I thought I could do a series here on James.

James was the half-brother of Jesus and didn’t believe he was the Son of God. He was pretty antagonistic (John 7:2-4). It was only after Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection that he believed and led the Jerusalem church until the High Priest pushed him off a building in 62 AD.

Before that happened, he wrote a letter to the Jewish Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire. It’s a very practical letter on Christian living. We’re going to start with James 1:1-18.

James 1:2-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Life happens, it’s not easy, and contrary to popular belief, being a Christian isn’t puppy dogs and rainbows. At least not on this side of eternity. The hard times is where the depth of your faith is proven. As you endure, you’ll mature and become stronger.

When we lost Squiggles in a miscarriage, it was a trial, the making or breaking of faith. It grew stronger because we have a hope not many have.

Then there are times where we don’t know what to do. What then?

James 1:5

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

God won’t hold back wisdom when we ask for it. Solomon asked for it in 1 Kings 3:9-10. How wisdom is described here is an analytical heart and an ability to tell right from wrong. This will help us endure.

There is a warning though.

James 1:6-8

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

We have to trust that we’ll receive wisdom and be ready to apply it. Get off the fence and make our choice.

You see, God is there with us in these times. It’s not like He’s looking down and saying ‘sucks to be you’. No, He’s our Father, willing to guide us if we listen.

James 1:9-11

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

This is contrasting the rich and the poor. Now there’s nothing wrong with having money; it can and is used for good. It’s the love of money that is the issue (1 Timothy 6:10). James is telling that the rich Christian with everything has the same priceless treasure that the poor Christian with nothing has. Jesus.

Neither money nor status can get us salvation. Being an heir to God is an invaluable gift. This is where we put our focus.

James 1:12

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

This is a beatitude like in the Sermon on the Mount. A conditional promise and description of one who’s blessed.

James 1:13-15

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

We sometimes look at trials as God tempting us. James corrects that line of thinking. Our temptations come from our own evil desires. The thought pops into our head, we entertain the idea, then we act on it and sin.

Jesus said this about our hearts in Mark 7:20-22. “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly.” If we’re even angry at a person, we’re just as guilty as if we killed them (Matthew 5:22).

Why is he so strict on this?

Because he’s revealing our sinful nature and telling us how dangerous it is. That’s why we need Jesus as Savior because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

While God doesn’t tempt us, He does allow us to be tested. Not to see us fail, but so we can grow. We see life as maybe 80 years. He sees our eternal lives, and the testing and enduring are so we can grow up before we get to Heaven.

James 1:16-18

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Look at every good thing you have. It’s from God. Matthew 7:11 also says that God will never give us anything less than good gifts when we ask Him. His definition of good. He’s not going to change now.

In fact, one gift is our salvation. As Christians, we’re born-again. Not because of our parents or another person. Born of God.

This passage stresses having an enduring faith-perseverance. A theme that runs throughout the Bible. Peter and Paul’s letters for example.

Jesus persevered, always doing God’s will, even to the point of going to the cross for us. He is the Son of God, and because we have God the Holy Spirit in us, we can also endure.

Here’s what we can do to gain perseverance, and that’s to trust God daily, in every situation, even the hard ones. If we need help, we can ask God for the wisdom to choose rightly. No matter our circumstances, our hope in being one of God’s children. He will reward us for sticking it out. God doesn’t test us to cause us to fail, but to teach us to endure, and by doing that we mature in our faith. Only good and needful things come from the God who saved us. Isn’t Jesus proof of that?