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James #5 - chapter 2, verse 1-4
The Book of James
The Test of Impartial Love, Pt 1
James 2:1-4
 
Tonight we are moving into chapter 2 of our study fo James and we’ll begin to take a look at the first 13 verses, although tonight we’ll only get through the first four and we’ll read those in just a moment.
 
By way of introduction, when we think of the attributes of God, the first things to come to mind are often His love and holiness and omnipotence and omniscience and omnipresence. We might even  think of what theologians call His immutability; that is that God does not change. We certainly could include His sovereignty, His grace, His mercy, His faithfulness and His goodness. And you could probably think of more than just those.
 
But there is another attribute of God that we don't very often talk about and yet is very often spoken of in Scripture and that is God's impartiality. It is just as true to say God is impartial as it is to say God is love or just or any other characteristic.  God is absolutely and totally impartial in dealing with people.
 
That is another way He is totally unlike us!  We are very partial. We tend to put everyone in some kind of category or rank and then treat them according to their classification.  It may have to do with some aspect of their physical appearance such as the color of their skin or how much hair they have or don’t have.  It might have to do with their wardrobe or whether or not they have tattoos.
It might be how much money they appear to thave or don’t have or where they live or the kind of car they drive or house they occupy.  It could be some personality characteristic or emotional trait.  There are lots of ways we categorize and classify to choose our favorites and separate from those who aren’t. 
 
But with God, none of those things are issues.  They are of no significance at all. They mean absolutely nothing to Him.
 
A person's education or economic status, or physical appearance or fame or prestige or lack of money, none of it matters to God. 
 
a person's looks, a person's wardrobe, a person's social relationships, a person's job, a person's fame, prestige, a person's earthly honor, all of those collectively and individually mean absolutely nothing to God. They are non-issues.
 
Listen to Deuteronomy 10:17
 
That verse really amazes me because when Moses says God is a God of Gods and Lord of Lords and a God who is great and mighty and awesome and then to illustrate that, he does it by describing God as One Who shows no partiality. 
 
And time and again in Scripture we see God described in that way.  And it is that subject that is on the heart of James as he writes the text before us tonight. 
 
James 2:1-13
 
 
Now James is a very practical man.  And James focuses on the impartiality of God with reference to a person's social or economic status.  In other places in the New Testament, Peter and Paul deal with the issue by focusing on salvation, 
 
But James is looking at it economic and social reasons. And he is dealing with us in a very practical way in the life of the church. We don't like to admit it, but partiality is a problem in churches.  We’d like to ignore that or believe it doesn’t exist, but it does. 
 
We are more impressed with people with big bank accounts and giving potential and good jobs than we are with people who have nothing to offer.  We like people like us.  We’re more comfortable around those who are similar to us.  And we can be impressed for a lot of different reasons with the attractiveness of certain people joining the church. 
 
And at the same time, we can be put off or aggravated or even upset with others because they don’t impress us as much and therefore, we don’t treat everyone the same.  That’s jus the truth of the matter. 
 
But I will remind you, God is not impressed with any of that. It is utterly of no consequence to Him whatsoever in the matter of evaluating the worth of a soul. It's inconsequential. They're non-issues. God judges and God evaluates and God estimates your worth and my worth and the worth of everyone purely on the basis of the inner person. 
 
And as His child, I am to have the same attitude of impartiality.  And remember, we are looking at tests of authentic faith. 
James wants you to examine yourself to see if you're for real.  The first test was how you respond to trials.  Trials and suffering will tell you whether your faith is real. The second test was how you respond to temptation.  That, too, will show you whether your faith is real. The third test was how you react to the Word of God.  It’s another test of authentic faith. 
 
And here is the fourth test.  Are you partial? What is your reaction to the poor? What is your reaction to the needy? How do you act around rich folk?  Do you give them more respect than you do others?  Do you show favoritism?
 
See, we often miss or ignore the fact that just as every trial or temptation that comes through our life is a test, and everything we learn from the Word of God is a test, so is every poor or needy person that crosses our path a test to demonstrate whether or not we’re really saved.  In those encounters are often not nearly as much about them as it is about us. 
 
If we are the children of God and the heart of God beats within our soul, then it will be evident in the way we treat people because we will react in a consistent with the character of God. 
 
How did John say it in
 
1 John 3:16
 
He’s saying, “You flunked the test! You can say the love of God is in you but if you don't treat someone in need like God would treat them, then the love of God is obviously not there.”
 
So, how we react to people is a test. And if we are like God we will not be favoring certain people because of their status, education, money, fame, prestige, looks or whatever. There's no place for favoritism in the heart of God and there's no place for favoritism in the heart of His people and therefore there's no place for favoritism in the church.
 
Now in chapter 2, James divides this section into five thoughts. And it’s a nice outline.  James is a very systematic thinker and it is evident in his writing.  We won’t be able to deal with all of this at one sitting, but I’ll give yo the outline and then we’ll cover it over the next two or three weeks. 
 
First of all, he lays out the principle.  Then he provides the example.  Then he points out the inconsistency, then the violation and finally he ends up in verses 12 and 13 with the appeal.
 
We’ll begin with
 
  1. The Principle
 
verse 1
 
Here is his premise:  It is inconsistent to claim to be a follower fo Jesus Christ and show partiality to people.  Saying I’m a believer and at the same time favoring some people over others contradictory.
 
Now to better understand the principle we need to remember that the greatest number of converts to the faith of Jesus Christ were among the poor. Study the New Testament, and that is obvious.
Even extra-Biblical historical material verifies that.  The early church was often mocked and ridiculed because it was made up of poor people. The attacks and critiques were often based upon the fact that Christians were such common, insignificant, poor people. They were considered to be uncultured, social rejects.  Ignorant and unlearned was the description given the early disciples.  Nothing more than uneducated Galileans.   
 
The first church fight recorded in the Bible was over trying to supply food to poor widows.  Paul reminds the church, in 1 Corinthians 1:26 that of those called,  “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble but God has chosen the foolish, the weak, the base."
 
James repeats that in James 2:5
 
The majority of people in the church have always been the poor, common people.
 
Now having said that let me say that not everybody's that way. Even in the early church there were some people who weren't particularly poor. We could point to people like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and Lydia as examples. 
 
I think it safe to say Cornelius and the Ethiopian eunuch were not beggars.  Pricilla and Aquila and although not the best example of church members, Ananias and Sapphira, come to mind.
 
So obviously, the church was not exclusively poor people, but far and away the vast majority of the people came from the common folks who had very little.
And that’s still true today. For the most part, the church has always been composed of common folks with a few of the uncommon rich.  By the way, that’s why the blue bloods of American politics hate the evangelical vote and movements like the Tea Party.  In their opinion, those votes are nothing more than the lowest of the low and it is extremely distasteful to people of culture
 
And all of that to say, there is the potential in the church for a division among the people based upon their social standing or economic capability. It was true then and it’s still true today.  So it's important that James point out how unlike God that is, and that's what he does with this principle. Let's look more specifically at it.
 
Notice how he begins:  "My brothers."
 
More than a general greeting, he uses this phrase to get their attention.  He's about to say something very strong like in he did in chapter 1 verse 2 when he talked about trials and temptations.
 
Then in verse 16 of chapter 1 he uses the same technique to talk about the response to the Word of God.  Now in chapter 2, he begins in the same way to deal with impartiality. 
 
We’ll see it again in chapter 3 dealing with the tongue, and chapter 4 with the way we talk to one another and chapter 5 with patience. 
 
 
 
 
I think he also uses it to frame the discussion in Christian terms.  This is a Christian principle.  This is the way followers of Christ are to act.  He is about to talk about “the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.  So he puts his comments in that context.
 
Now I found the Greek arrangement of this verse to be very interesting.  Although I don’t understand all of that and don’t speak or read Greek, I can still learn from it and the Greek arrangement of the verse is different from the English. 
 
The Greek order of the verse goes like this, “My brethren," and the next phrase is, "with respect of persons." In the English it comes at the end of the verse but in the Greek it comes at the beginning.  Now they do that for emphasis.  This is the focus of the statement. 
 
The faith of the Lord Jesus Christ was much more familiar to them than was this principle, so James brings it to their attention by saying, "My brothers, with respect of persons, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ the glory." That's the Greek text.
 
So what does he mean by "respect of persons?" Well actually the word means "partialities”.  It's a plural word. The roots of the word mean to lift up somebody's face and the idea would be of elevating them.  The idea is to judge someone by their physical appearance, assessing someone’s worth on nothing but what appears on the outside.
 
That’s exactly how we tend to judge people.  We assess their worth by what they look like, their clothes, their hair, where they live, what they drive, their economic situation.
That's just built into our fallenness. And so the emphatic phrase at the beginning is, "My brethren, with respect of persons, that is with preferential treatment based on race or wealth or dress or rank or social status, hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ to the glory."
 
And that's an imperative command. Don't embrace the Christian faith and at the same time show partiality based on physical appearance.  In fact, the verb carries the idea of "do not be in the practice of partiality." It is absolutely inconsistent with being a Christian.
 
That is at the very basis of our faith.  God looks on the heart.  Everything we know to be true about God is that the value of a person is based upon the value of their soul. And this attitude of favoritism disregards the basic truth of our faith. The gospel is for everyone and God judges everyone on the basis of the heart. The soul of the person is the issue, not their outward appearance.
 
And any favoritism that judges a person on the outside that plays up the people because they dress fine or they're wealthy is sin. That’s exactly what is said in
 
James 2:9
 
Now remember, we are testing authentic faith.  Keep in mind that everything James teaches is laid alongside salvation to see how it measure up.  And here we see that being partial is in total conflict with our salvation.  Christianity does not teach that or act like that. 
We are children of God, brethren, and as we are to act like God acts. He's impartial and we should be as well.   
 
One more thing before I leave this thought.  To emphasize his point, notice how James identifies the Lord.  It is the faith of “the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory”.  Literally, He is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory!
 
He is the divine presence of God. That's what he's saying to his Jewish listeners.  They would know what he meant when he talked about the glory.  He is referencing the Shekinah of God.  This is the glory that was was in the garden. The glory was in the tabernacle. The glory was in the temple. The glory was in Christ. We beheld His glory, John 1:14 says.
 
And what he is saying is as children of God, it is sinful to profess the faith of Jesus Christ who is the glory of God and at the same time violate the nature of God with your partiality.  Jesus came as God in flesh, the glory veiled in flesh. He took on our nature, He bore our sin. He took our curse. He was the glory of God in human form. But Jesus truly revealed the nature of God in that Jesus was without partiality.
 
Even His enemies knew it. He did not esteem anyone different than anyone else on the basis of their externals whether they were a ruler or a beggar.  In fact, that is the exact testimony of
 
Matthew 22:16
 
 
 
They saw that in Christ. It was of no consequence to Jesus whether a woman was a virtuous mother or a harlot in terms of the worth of the soul. It was no consequence to Him whether a man was a high priest or a demon-filled hermit by the lake, whether he was an external religious man or an utterly irreligious man, whether he was a law abiding citizen or a thief on a cross. 
 
It made no difference to Him in terms of the worth of the soul whether the man was educated or uneducated, whether he was handsome or ugly, whether he was rich or poor. Those things were of no concern to Him whatever.
 
And even His enemies saw it. He was the glory of God and as such, He was impartial. He is so utterly and absolutely and totally impartial that he could save folks like you and me!  And, wonder of wonders, one day we’ll be like Him.  Whatever we are, whatever we've done, whatever we haven't done in the fullness of the grace of salvation, He will make us every one to be exactly like Himself.
 
How then can believers who say they are the children of God and who say they hold the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, ever show partiality? 
 
Of all the places on earth, the church ought to be the place where whosoever will may come and be accepted and loved, and to not be like that is sin.  So that’s the principle.  Don’t claim to be a Christian and then not treat people like Christ did.
 
Now let's look at
 
 
2.  The Example
 
Verse 2
 
James presents this very vivid, detailed hypothetical situation.  Having heard this principle, he syas, “Let’s suppose two people come to church.  And using his words, “One a gold- fingered man in shining bright apparel and the other is a poor man in shabby clothes."
 
Get the picture?  Church is going on on Sunday morning and into the meeting comes a couple of visitors. The first visitor is the center of attention.  He’s got a shiny suit and gold jewelry!  I would say that sounds like some of the rap stars I see today, but that might be giving voice to my inner partiality!  He’s got him a grill and cap turned sideways, you know what I’m saying?
 
By the way, the reference to the gold rings is a very Jewish reference.  Rings were customary among Jews, not so customary because of their expense, but because of their authority.  They were a status symbol.  Remember, the father of the prodigal instructed his servants to put a ring on the son.
 
Very few poor people could afford a gold ring. But this guy’s not just got a ring, he’s got rings, plural.  The implication is he had rings on every finger.   Maybe he had bells on his toes and a bone in his nose, ho-ho, like Ahab the Arab. 
 
The most ostentatious of people in the ancient world would wear rings on every finger, including the thumb. 
And when they really wanted to put on a display, historical sources say there were ring rental businesses where they could rent their jewelry and really show off.  So the rings allowed you to show off your economic status. So here comes the original Mr. Gold Finger. He's got them everywhere.
 
James also tells us he is wearing fine, shiny clothes.  The word is "lampros" and it means bright shining. It can also mean loud colors or glittering, sparkling, or  brilliant with ornamentation. It is the same term used of the gorgeous apparel that Herod Antipas wore and which the soldiers put on Jesus to mock Him. It is also used in Acts 10:30 of the shining garments of the angel who appeared to Cornelius.
 
So suffice it to say, while everybody else is wearing their normal drab stuff, here comes a guy with gold all over his fingers in some brazen flashy loud ornamentation in his clothing.
 
Now we need to insert, there's no problem with that.  What this guy is wearing is not your business.  It’s no big deal.  You don't stop him at the door and tell him to put some sackcloth on and look like a Christian.  What he’s wearing is not the issue. 
The man is welcome at church. 
 
In contrast to him, James introduces us to another man who comes to church eh same day and this man is a poor man.  He’s not only poor, he’s poor with seven “o’s”.  He is pooooor.   In fact, he is so poor, he looks like a beggar.  Chances are he’s wearing his only robe. He sleeps in it, he sweats in it, he works in it, he lives in it.  He's at the lowest level of social strata and he stinks. 
He’s filthy and he’s just a pitiful sight.  Nobody likes to be around that.  It makes us uncomfortable.  But on this day, he showed up for Sunday morning worship. 
 
Again, there is nothing wrong with that.  He's not condemned for not dressing up. Nobody stops him at the door and says go home and get a tie or you can't be here. Nobody does that. They didn't throw sackcloth on the rich man and they don't throw some special robe on this guy. That isn't the issue.
 
It is nice to be thoughtful when you come to worship the Lord and fellowship with His people. It's nice if you're clean. It's nice if you dress up with some respect for those you'll be with and even for the Lord so that you've given a bit of attention to the exercise of worship. But when someone comes who has not any option for that, they're just as welcomed. That's not an issue here.
 
So what’s the issue? 
 
verse 3
 
Notice the phrse, “pay attention to”.  Old KJV says “have respect to”.  The idea is giving attention to or having respect for.  This one guy has everyone’s attention..  They’re all sitting and saying, "Look at this guy!  He’s wearing fine clothes and dripping with gold." And somebody rushes over and says, "O Sir, sit here in a good place." After all, that’s the kind of guy we need. Boy, he could really help the finances!  Hopefully he’s a tither!  Sit him in a good place.  Make him comfortable.  Give him a place of honor. 
 
 
And just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that either.  There’s nothing wrong with giving this man a good seat.  In the early churches, there weren’t many places to sit to begin with, maybe a few benches.  Most sat on the floor or leaned against the wall or stood.  So to give this man a seat would have been something special and someone else probably gave up their seat to do it. 
 
And in fairness, it was a gracious thing to do.  So where’s the sin?  The sin was not in how they treated the rich guy, but that they didn’t treat the poor guy the same way.   
 
Notice again what is said to the other man. 
 
Verse 3
 
In other words, we really don’t care where you go.  Just get where you’re going and stay out of the way.  You can sit here or there.  You can sit beside the footstool or even under the footstool, just get out where you’re going.  You can stand or ist, just do it. 
 
By the way, if there is a footstool and you can’t sit on the footstool, that’s because somebody’s got their feet on it.  So somebody's got both a chair and a footstool and he won't give the chair to the poor guy and he won't give the stool to the poor guy. Instead, he says sit down beside the stool because I want to sit where I'm sitting and I want my feet to be where they are. So just get out of the way.  And that's the sin.
 
 
 
Now why would you do that to a guy just because he had shabby clothes?  It is because there's something built into our fallenness that's partial to people who look nice, smell nice, and are dripping with gold. It's just how it is.
 
Now remember, the example began in verse 2 with an "if”.  In verse 4, we find the “then” that finishes the thought. 
 
Verse 4
 
So if these two men come in and to the man with the fine clothes you say, “Sit here”, and if you say to the poor man, “Get out of the way”, then, verse 4, "Are you not showing partiality?
 
Are you not making distinctions in yourselves? Are you not separating? Are you not dividing? And the answer is “yes, we are guilty of being partial.” 
 
To do so is to be guilty of favoritism and discrimination. And the issue of such behavior is that it's not godlike. God isn't like that. It is serious sin.
 
Look what he says at the end of verse 4.
 
“judges with evil thoughts"
 
The word "evil" means vicious. You're just like a sinful world. You're motivated to cater to the rich and the prominent and shun and slight the poor and the common. That's anti-Christian behavior. This is the carnality of the flesh. This has no place in the people of God.
 
Let me close for tonight with a thought from Paul found in
 
Romans 15:5-7
 
So how did He receive us?  Without partiality. 
 
The church is going to be made up of mostly common folks and a few uncommon ones. It's not sinful to have much if God has prospered you. May God help you to help those who have little. If it weren't for people who had much we couldn't help people who had little. It's not wrong to have much if you're a faithful steward of it.
 
And it's not wrong to have little. God makes no discrimination in regard to those things, nor should we. And if you show favoritism, verse 4 says, you are partial. And that means you are not like God and you are not like Christ. But on the other hand, you have become a judge with vicious intent and your behavior is anti-Christian.
 
And the solution to that is to come to the God Who shows no partiality and seek His forgiveness and heart. 
 
Let’s pray.
 
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