If I could summarize this particular chapter of James, I would say this:
Living the Christian life out loud: You can’t talk it; you have to walk it.
James begins this chapter with clear instructions that should be considered and adhered to as we live our lives on this earth.
2 Principles to Live By As Christians (James 2)
Avoiding the Sin of Partiality (James 2:1-13)
The book of James, chapter 2, opens up with this challenge: you have to be careful about partiality.
Partiality Defined (vs. 1)
“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.”
James 2:1, NKJV
Partiality can be defined as the fault of one when called on to requite or to give judgment, has respect to the outward circumstances of another and not their intrinsic merits (image of God), and so prefers the person who is rich, or powerful, over another person who is destitute of such gifts. Simply, it is when you judge someone based on their appearance – their clothes and the rings on their fingers.
Partiality Prohibited (vs. 1)
In verse 1, God prohibits us from showing partiality, preference, or favoritism. Don’t be a Christian who brings to the table the attitude of evaluating someone based on their outward appearance. Now you may be thinking, “But pastor, you show partiality and give honor to certain people.” Yes, but the Bible also says to give honor where honor is due! (Proverbs 3:27)
Partiality Illustrated (vs. 2-3)
If the President of the United States walks into our church service, we would offer him a particular seat in a specific place. By doing so, we are showing him honor based on the office and position that he holds. It has nothing to do with what he is wearing or what he looks like, but instead, we honor and respect him because he is the President of our country. Some of us haven’t yet learned how to honor people where honor is due. So instead, we keep tallies and statistics of who is driving what, living where, and wearing extravagant labels.
Partiality Dangers (vs. 4-6)
“Have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”
James 2:4, NKJV
Anytime you show partiality, you elevate yourself as a judge, which is based not only on sinful thinking but also on wrong thinking. To judge means to evaluate others. And while we are to discern the fruit of others, we are never to partner with pride of partiality in our observations. One of our deacons, Deacon David Moore, always says, “You gotta get rid of your stinkin’ thinkin’,” and I believe that is what James is saying.
Verse 5 goes on to explain God’s heart for those less fortunate.
His heart is inclined to those who don’t have the world’s riches. His heart is abundantly compassionate towards the least of these. Many times God speaks to those who have a need in this world. He declares that they may lack in the natural, but they are rich in faith in the spiritual. Some of us have been raised in the poorest of circumstances, and I love that God gave us the capacity and ability to be rich in the faith and be heirs of heaven’s kingdom! Now here is the danger. When you don’t operate from a place of knowing and understanding that and you pick the people who have wealth and riches, you have chosen to reject the ones whom God has chosen, the poor. I want to encourage those who are struggling. Maybe you have enough money to meet some bills or are having a difficult time in a situation. The world may reject and overlook you, but God celebrates and reminds you of your legacy. Partiality is dangerous, especially when honoring people who take advantage of you. They take you to court and sue you, yet you’ve elevated them into a posture of honor while they continue to dishonor you. This is not how we function in the kingdom! They have no respect for who you are – your name, reputation, or kingdom gifts you are equipped with – but instead, they treat you poorly and disregard you.
James 2:8 says that we are to fulfill the royal law of scripture: treat others how you want to be treated. For when you do that, you will do well.
My challenge to you is this: consider the people in your everyday activities. How do you treat them? Be intentional about extending honor and respect. Some of us need to repent before God because we’ve been guilty of evaluating people based on the shallow surface of appearance and lack. In the past, how have you responded and reacted to them? Did you greet them in love and respect? Did you offer them something to eat? Did you offer your seat? Here is the reality of the situation. You may think, “I may have done this, but it is not as bad as what he did.” However, God is very clear that all it takes is one transgression, and you are guilty of breaking them all.
In the Old Testament, there are 613 laws outlined. If you stumble in one, you break them entirely. As disciples of Christ, we are to speak, walk, and act with a mentality that one day, we will stand before God and give Him an account for how we treated others. My biggest struggle every day is dealing with people who don’t treat their spouses with the law of liberty and love. And unfortunately, the truth is that some of us treat strangers better than those closest to us; there is no mercy, compassion, or love. Can you imagine if this was how God treated us? God says that when He shows mercy, it powers over judgment. Thank you, Lord, that you have not given us what we deserve! Now let me ask you. Are you guilty of favoritism, a lack of mercy, or turning away from those less fortunate because of partiality?
Or do you show them the love of Jesus Christ?
Saving Faith Produces Good Works (James 2:14-26)
This part of James chapter 2 is often quoted, and for a good reason. It says some profound things about our faith. For one, when you have saving faith, it produces good works.
Faith and Works (vs. 14-17)
Does faith alone profit a person? I would argue no. God has blessed you with talents and treasures, and unless you act on them through works, you won’t be able to bless others. You can’t declare the person in need to be in peace if you walk on by and don’t serve them. You can’t wish a person warmth if you don’t give them the coat off your back. You can’t bless someone to be filled if you don’t offer any sustenance. Faith and works are partners; they are twins. You can’t have one without the other, and likewise, you can’t accomplish what God has called you to do if you leave one out. It is inevitable: faith will produce works!
Faith Without Works is Dead Faith (vs. 18-20)
If I sit on a stool and put all my weight in the chair, I believe it will hold me up because I have faith in how it was designed and manufactured. However, if I say I believe it will hold me up and I never sit on it, that is a good indicator that I don’t have faith in the chair. If I have faith, I must be willing to act on it. Even the devil believes God exists! Furthermore, this proves that it takes more than just saying we believe in something. To honestly say that you have had an encounter with Jesus and genuinely have put your faith in him, you must have works to go along with your faith talk.
Faith is Demonstrated by Works (vs. 21-26)
Abraham, a father in the faith, was a perfect example of true faith in God. His faith was working together with his works when he climbed atop a mountain altar and was obedient in choosing to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
Hebrews 11:17-19, NKJV, says, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”
Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son, the one that represented the promise given to him that he would be a father of all nations. Furthermore, Abraham was willing to sacrifice him because he believed God would raise him from the dead.
God is calling us to demonstrate our faith by being obedient to him. Maybe it is a complicated conversation towards reconciliation. Perhaps it is choosing that God will meet your needs as you tithe to the church as your refrigerator grows empty. How are you demonstrating your faith in Jesus? Are you walking out faith and deeds?