Book of James 2:1 — James is the pastor of the pastor of the Jerusalem Church, half-brother of Christ. He is writing to the Hebrew Christians who are in the Diaspora, or the dispersion, outside the land of Israel having been pushed out by Saul of Tarsus. He is basically writing to them not so much on to how to become a Christian, but how to actually live for God, particularly in the age of the Church. Hebrew Christians have a tendency to focus on practical righteousness. They understood that their disobedience in their history is what brought them into the captivity in Babylon; it is what pushed the northern tribes out of their land in 722 BC, so given that history, a Hebrew Christian wants to know how to please God in daily life. They are already pleasing to God in terms of their position, but how is their practice going to catch up with their position is what the book of James is about.
The first half of the book is about faith, not about saving faith but serving faith, in other words, how to keep trusting God through the emergencies of life. The first way that you demonstrate a practical righteousness that’s pleasing to God, and you exercise faith in the sense that you’re continuing to trust Him through the emergencies of life is to adopt God’s perspective on trials and suffering. These people needed to hear something about God’s perspective on suffering because, you can imagine how you would feel being kicked out of your own house, city, country into some far-flung region.
James 1:2-18 explains to them how to adopt the mindset of God on the issue of suffering or trials, and he explains in James 1:2-12 how to rejoice during trials. He explains why, and then he reminds them not to charge God foolishly in the midst of trials in James 1:13-18, thinking that somehow if you have suffering in your life that God is setting you up for destruction, or that God is trying to pull the carpet out from under you, when in reality, trials are not there to make us bitter but to make us better. So that is what James 1:2-18 is about.
Then, from there, we moved into a second area — obedience to God’s Word, James 1:19-27. That involves a need for three things:
Number 1 was a slowness for speaking and anger in 1:19-20, and I find that my propensity as a sinful person is the opposite of that. I am the first to speak and the first to get under, and the Bible says that if you want to manifest a practical righteousness that pleases God, to be slow to both of those things.
Number 2, you need to take in God’s Word, receive it, and obey it in 1:21-25, and Number 3, a need to practice true religion or piety 1:26-27, which involves bridling our tongue and helping widows and orphans in their distress.
So, we are finished with James 1, and I hate to say that we are finished with it because I don’t know if you ever finish with James 1. You could spend your entire life studying that because these are things we need to hear, but we are doing a study on the entire book of James, so at some point we need to move into James 2. Tonight we are moving into James 2:1-13, and I was happy to see that Judy put some booklets out there; those are there to prep you, not for tonight, but for James 2:14-26, faith manifesting itself in good works. The reason that we put that booklet out there for you by Pastor Dennis Rokser at Duluth Bible Church is because if you don’t understand that paragraph correctly, you will get confused, and he does a good job explaining that paragraph in a readable way, accurately, but more on that when we get there. Tonight, we are in James 2:1-13 which is all about the need not to show favoritism in the assembly or the church.
So this paragraph in James 2:1-13 involves three things:
Let’s go ahead start with the command. Notice James 2:1, and the first part of this is not showing favoritism. The first thing we have here is a command, James 2:1, “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.” Very important here is the expression “my brethren,” and I need to keep hammering that home because he is obviously talking to Christians, and if you don’t understand that he is talking to Christians, then you’ll misunderstand 2:14-26, and you’re also going to misunderstand 2:12-13, which talk about a judgment for Christians — that is why I keep emphasizing this.
He says in James 2:1, “My brethren, do not hold your faith”… [notice ‘your faith’ — that implies that they already have faith, so they’re in faith. These aren’t people who need the gospel, they’re justified before God, what they need is to learn how to live for God as Christians. If you look back, eg, in James 1:3, it talks about the testing of your faith. You can’t test someone’s faith unless they have faith. You see the same and exact idea here in James 2:1]… “in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.” When he says ‘do not hold,’ it is the Greek verb, ‘echo’ which means to have or to hold, like a marriage ceremony. The faith is theirs, but he says that as you walk out that faith in service, don’t do it with an attitude of personal favoritism. This is in the imperative mode, ‘echo’ meaning it isn’t a suggestion; not a try this and see if it fits, it is ‘do this,’ and James does this all the way through his book, giving countless commands. These commands are such that you don’t give these to an unbeliever because they don’t have the Holy Spirit in them yet. The command for the unbeliever is for them to ‘believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.’ That is one command for an unbeliever, however, once you get saved, then there are multiple commands for us to follow because we now have the means to carry out these commands because we now have the resources of God inside of us via the Holy Spirit and the new nature.
So, this is, and it doesn’t show up in English but in Greek, it is in the imperative mode, when he says, “do not hold” — that’s a command, “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious the Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.” We know what personal favoritism is; it is favoring one person over another for no real biblical reason, and we will give an example of what they were doing inside the assembly there (in verses 2:2,3) as we get this situation described to us. Before we leave James 2:1, you will notice that he says, “…do not hold your faith in our glorious the Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of [personal] favoritism,” he highlights ‘our glorious the Lord Jesus Christ.” Because, if Jesus wasn’t anything, He wasn’t, when on this earth, a type of individual who showed personal favoritism as man shows it. Why is that? Because he was criticized, Mark 2:15-17 for eating with the tax gatherers and the sinners, and the Pharisees basically condemned him for it. Why is that? Because they were showing favoritism — one person over another. Jesus knew no such thing that He transcended man’s boundaries of favoritism to such a degree that He was criticized for it by none other than the religious leaders. He does the same thing in John 4 when He ministers to the woman at the well who had had five husbands, and her current partner, she wasn’t married to. She had every black mark against her that you can think of:
So, Jesus in John 4, and it’s interesting that when you study this in John 4, he goes way out of His way to Samaria to meet her; she was totally out of the trajectory of where His little group was headed. He starts ministering to this woman, and in John 4:27, “At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman…” A ‘what are You ministering to her for?’ kind of thing.
This is basically the nature of Jesus; He is such that He doesn’t show personal favoritism. That’s why I think that James, the half-brother of Christ, as he is giving us this command not to show favoritism, is basically saying this not to do this in the attitude of our “glorious the Lord Jesus Christ.” How could we as Christians who claim the name of Christ, show personal favoritism when Jesus died for the whole world in 1 John 2:2? Jesus even died for the people who didn’t vote exactly as we did in the last election cycle. That one hurts! 1 John 2:2 says, “…and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” The gospel is for everybody so if I am walking with the same attitude and spirit of our the Lord Jesus Christ, then I can’t show favoritism of one person over another.
When you look at God the Father, He doesn’t show personal favoritism either. Matthew 5:45 says, “…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” So one farmer hates God and one farmer loves God, and they both get equal sunlight and rain, and if God was showing favoritism, He would only give sun and rain to one and misery to the other, but God doesn’t do that.
So, when we start showing favoritism, we step out of the character of God; we really aren’t acting like sons of God as Matthew 5:45 says that sons of God are those who imitate His character. ‘My brethren, hold fast to your faith’ — that’s the command and that’s why he mentions Jesus here in 2:1.
The next question is what were they doing here in the assembly that was so bad; what were they doing that was creating a situation where they were showing favoritism? There is a description of that in James 2:2,3. Notice what 2:2 says, “For if any man comes into your assembly [I am reading out of the NASB where it says assembly, but the Greek word is synagōgē, and that’s a major hint as to how to interpret this book. He isn’t writing here to Gentile Christians, he is writing to Hebrew Christians that are still in a very Hebraic primitive form of worship in their synagōgē; it is just that they’re worshiping Jesus, or who they would call Yeshuah, in their synagōgē. That has to be true, because going back to James 1:1, you see this book is written to the twelve tribes, so this is very Jewish. It is also a major hint that this is a very early letter. When we were going through the introduction to the book at the beginning of the quarter, I gave you all of the reasons that I believe this is the first New Testament book ever written. That helps to explain why he quotes the law later. He quotes the Law because there is nothing else to quote. He doesn’t have Paul, Ephesians, Philippians, anything on the record, so what you literally have is Malachi, then the 400 years of silence and then the ministry of Christ. Before anything is written down, boom, you have James half-brother of Christ writing this book, and one of the evidences of that is that they’re meeting in a s synagōgē, not the Methodist church of whatever; it is a Hebraic form of worship.
So, what was going on in this synagogue that was so bad? Continuing on with James 2:2,3, “For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives?” So, in 2:2,3 it is basically a description of what they were doing. People who were rich were treated one way (I’m glad this never happens in the 21st century, by the way), people without means were treated a different way. I think it is a very nice transition from James 1:27 because remember what he exhorted us to do there — to help widows and orphans in their distress. Who cares about widows and orphans? God cares, but they’re not very high on the social status list, and how will they ever become donors to our church if we invest too much money in them? God cares about them, that’s why, and if we don’t care about widows and orphans and all of our so-called ministries are targeted at the wealthy, and not that it’s wrong to do that, but if we neglect widows and orphans in the process, then we are showing favoritism. So, that is why James 1:27 leads nicely into James 2:13 where he gives us this whole discussion of favoritism.
Do we have modern day examples in the church of churches who favor one group over another? We don’t have to look far to see that. How do we as a church minister to homosexuals, AIDS patients, murderers of unborn children, liars, adulterers, thieves, gossips, gluttons, people who have different political views than ours or how about this one: people who I don’t really see eye to eye on theologically? They have views and a lot of them have come through here over the years with all of these strange ideas; it is easy to marginalize them and push them off to the back somewhere and spend our time on the orthodox people. So, it isn’t hard given our fallen nature, to see, in most modern day churches in Christianity, favoritism is shown constantly. That is why we need this paragraph because we need to be corrected on this so we can manifest a practical righteousness that is pleasing to God.
We move away from the command of no favoritism to the assembly where favoritism was being shown, and that should be James 2:2,3 there under FAVORITISM II. Situation: favoritism in the assembly.
Now James moves into the reasoning. Why is it that favoritism is contrary to God’s character and His purposes? James lays out for us five reasons:
Giving the wealthy privileges in the Church that the poor don’t have. You are showing preferential treatment to someone based upon what you think they can do for the church. See that? Rather than what the Church can do for them. if Donald Trump walked into this room, we would all treat him differently than just an average person who comes here because we would be like, ‘Wow, the President came to our church, let’s get a photo, put this on Facebook, because everyone will want to come here because the President of the US came here…’ so we would be looking at him for what we could get out of him rather than how we could serve him. That is what I think James calls evil motives. What’s behind favoritism? It is basically, a self-serving motive.
Quite frankly, this is one of the things that I love about Sugarland Bible Church and its accounting system. There are two things, and I didn’t set this up when I got here, someone else set this up: First, the offering plate is never passed here. I’m not against churches that pass offering plates, but I think it is awesome that we don’t make a big deal about money. There are boxes in the back; we don’t put flashing lights on them. As the Lord leads, give, but there is no big pressure; no salesman speech, etc. The second and other thing I like about Sugarland Bible Church is the accounting system which was already in existence before I got here in such a way that the senior pastor, myself, has no idea who gives what. Now, I do see the totals, you see them, too as they’re in the bulletin month-by-month; and sometimes a month is high and satan will whisper in my ear that I did a good job that month. Then my wife will straighten me out. By the way, she caught me downstairs once when I first came here when I was looking at all of the totals week to week, month to month, and she asked me what I was doing. I said that all the elders gave me all of this accounting info and I can see what comes in one week versus another week, one month versus another month, and she said, “Oh, do you think Moses would do that? Do you think the Apostle Paul would do that? Would he sit in front of a bunch of accounting and say that this month is high and this month is low?” And this is where it helps being married to the right person who speaks her mind. I said, “Well, you’re right,”so now I hardly look at anything, and now the elders are mad at me for not reading my email, but I can’t win. The other thing is that I do see totals, but I have no knowledge of who gives what. You could give nothing to the church, or you could give a million dollars, I would never know the difference. That’s so liberating; ignorance is bliss, so now I don’t have to suck up to whoever, because I don’t know what they give. In fact, I can be an ‘equal opportunity offender’ as I don’t know who gives what, so any pastors listening, may consider organizing things in a way where you don’t have that information because it relieves you from the temptation of showing favoritism to people on the basis of finances. But apparently in James 2:2,3, that’s what was going on in the assembly, and James said in 2:4, ‘you have created a barrier that God has not created and you’ve done it with evil motives.’
So, I don’t have any more, and this is the funny thing when it comes to praying at a meal, when I go out with some of you after church, and the meal is served, and there is all of this pressure for someone to pray, and everyone looks at me as though I’m the one who is supposed to pray as if I have some kind of vantage point with God that you don’t have. There is no partiality with God. He hears your prayers just like He hears my prayers. I don’t go before the Lord and say, ‘Lord, I am pre-tribulational, pre-millennial, and I have written a bunch of books to prove it, and I graduated from Dallas Seminary; I’m the pastor of Sugarland Bible Church.’ God doesn’t care; there is no partiality with God. If you are going to God through prayer in Jesus, then your prayers have as much influence as mine have. So, when I go out to lunch with you, you can pay, first of all, and then you can pray.
So, when God elects, He elects or chooses people across the spectrum, which is what Jesus did based on the scriptures I gave you earlier with the tax gatherers and the sinners and the prostitutes. In His interaction with Mary Magdalene, weren’t the Pharisees saying, ‘Does He know what kind of woman that is’ and there is Jesus ministering to the dregs of society. By the way, that is the big deal about the conversion of Matthew in Matthew 9, and the conversion of Zacchaeus in the tree in Luke 19. Why was Zacchaeus in a tree? First of all he was short, secondly, he was pushed back of everythingbecause everyone hated the tax gatherers because if you were a Jewish tax gatherer, you went to work for Rome, which made you a patriotic traitor, and you were a thief because under Roman law, once you extracted resources for Rome, you could take whatever you wanted from the people for personal gain. To be a tax gatherer, is like being an abortionist in our day, a pornographer, or someone who sells drug — you can’t get any lower than a tax gatherer, and that’s why they’re always mentioned next to the prostitutes. Yet Christ comes to that booth of Matthew, and he gets saved, and then Jesus uses Matthew to write the first book of the New Testament, featuring the royal kingship of Christ after 400 years of silence. If that is not an example of not showing favoritism, I don’t know what is. Then He says to Zacchaeus, ‘I’m coming to your house for dinner.’ So, when God elects, those are the kind of people He elects and chooses. So, we are going to create a church where tax gatherers can’t come? That is completely contrary to the character and purposes of God. In fact, I might even put it this way: when God elects, He chooses more poor people than rich people. ‘Do you have verses on that? A few:
1 Corinthians 1:26, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;…”. Look around you here at Corinth and you don’t see the beautiful people, do you? You don’t see the great money managers of the world; people who look like they’ve just stepped out of a fashion catalog; you just see ordinary people. It seems to me that when God elects, there are probably more ordinary and poor people than there are the super rich. In fact, if the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that the rich have a problem with all of this because they’re used to being on top and used to buying their way out of their problems. If you have the means to buy your way out of your problems, then you don’t have too much of an incentive to trust the Lord. That’s why I like the prayer of Agger in Proverbs 30, where Agger prays to the Lord, ‘Lord don’t make me so poor that I have to steal, but at the same time, don’t make me so rich that I forget You. I want to be right there in the middle.’ That’s a great prayer when you think about it. We pray, ‘God, bless me financially,’ and God says, ‘Are you sure you want that? Because if I gave that to you, you may not give Me the time of day for the next 15-20 years because you will be lulled into the delusion of self-sufficiency.’ That’s why the rich have a difficult time with this. That is why I think that heaven will be populated with pretty simple, ordinary working class type of people. By the way, isn’t that what Jesus exemplified? What was His trade? A Wall Street banker, a CEO? He was just a carpenter; He just worked with His hands. That is God in human flesh.
Luke 1:52,53, “He has brought down the rulers from their thrones and has exalted those were humble.” So, he dethrones one and enthrones another. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty handed.” That is who Christ is, so when you walk into Christ’s church and the rich are promoted and elevated, and the poor are marginalized? That is about as far away from the thinking of God as you can possibly get because when God elects, He does it across the spectrum, including the poor. In fact, at the end of the day, there are probably more poor people than rich people.
He does say something very interesting in James 2:5, and I can’t let this slip by, particularly since we did an 80+series on the Kingdom. “Listen, my beloved brethren, did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom”…[why does it say that they, as God’s people, are heirs of the kingdom? What is an heir? A right that is yours; it is coming your way; you just aren’t in enjoyment of it yet; you don’t currently possess it, but your citizenship is there, your identity is there, it is legally yours, but you just haven’t received it yet. So obviously when He calls us heirs of the kingdom, it is quite obvious that we aren’t in the Kingdom, Amen? Do you think all of this with vote fraud that is going on would be going on in the kingdom? That is insanity that anyone thinks we are in the kingdom.
The kingdom is, very clearly, not something that will be established on planet earth until subsequent to the Second Coming of Christ (see slide on Prophecy Panorama). So, since that’s the blueprint of God, why would I think that I’m in the kingdom now, since Jesus hasn’t come back yet? So, we are pre-millennial, meaning the millennium is coming, but Christ comes back pre-; first, pre-, then the millennium. So, when James uses words like ‘heirs of the kingdom,’ James was a pre-millennialist. He probably didn’t call himself that because that’s a Latin term that came into existence in the fourth century. He would call himself a ‘chíliast,’ ‘chília’ being the Greek word for a thousand. This is what the church believed for two centuries. They were ‘chíliasts,’ meaning they believed that Jesus was going to come back one day, rule from Jerusalem, and rebuild a Temple, ruling this world for a thousand years because John described that time period as a thousand-year time period. It is the Greek word, ‘chília’, ‘heirs of the kingdom.’
Wow, you want some good reading? I am tempted about whether to recommend this to you because it is a three-volume set, and I’m talking multi-hundred pages per volume front and back, single spaced, called, The Theocratic Kingdom by G N H Peters. I have the three volumes on my shelf, and I haven’t read them all myself because of my eye problem. Who was GNH Peters? He was a poverty stricken, Lutheran itinerant minister (who wrote this in the late 1800s), so poor he couldn’t even afford the paper he was writing on, and he was the one who produced (before internet, read the preface by Wilbur Smith, who in 1947 says, ‘we have no idea how Peters accumulated this data; it is kind of a mystery’). He went through all of the church fathers; it is the most well documented source on the subject you will ever see; he produced the greatest work that has ever been produced in church history defending what I just called pre-millennialism. His denomination appreciated it so much that they kicked him out of his denomination. He died in obscurity as a very poor person, no one even knowing who he was until his writings were discovered by a subsequent generation. So, they were brought from the dust bin and put together, and this is this three-volume set, The Theocratic Kingdom. See, you might be working on some little project for the Lord, no one knows anything about it; no one cares, kind of like Peters. But God cares and God honored this man, and now we have this tremendous resource today, The Theocratic Kingdom. In The Theocratic Kingdom, by GNH Peters, Volume 1 Kings page 600, that shows you the size of this thing, and as you read it, it is like point 1, then proposition 1, underneath that proposition is observation 1,2,3; he goes on like this for three volumes, defending a doctrine that we take for granted, pre-millennialism, yet it is amazing how God used this person. Wilbur Smith, in the preface says, ‘I have no idea how this man got ahold of all of this data. It is one of the great mysteries of church history, quite frankly.’ I think the Holy Spirit helped him.
GNH Peters says concerning James, in James 2:5, Volume 1 page 600, says, “If the church is the Kingdom and believers are now in it, why designate them ‘heirs,’ etc., of a Kingdom.” So, he is defending the idea the kingdom is future, and is going directly against his denomination when he does it. And they threw him out. It is just amazing to me how God works — He got no earthly kudos, and they threw him out of the denomination. Unless he had resolute faith, he probably went to his grave thinking he had wasted his life. Could you imagine the criticism from his own family and the church for investing in this stupid thing? Yet history has vindicated GNH Peters. I get choked up just thinking about it. So that is the value of me not just saying ‘Well, GNH Peters says blah blah blah.’ I want you to understand who Peters was. Then you read what he says, and it is wow!
So why should we not show favoritism? Because we are dividing where God has not divided; we are narrowing a choice that God has not made. Next time, we will learn, beginning at James 2: 6,7 making friends with your enemies, and making enemies of your friends; honoring the rich because the rich, at least when James wrote these words, were actually the oppressors. Why are you sucking up to the oppressors and blasphemers?
Father, we are grateful for the book of James, for the things that communicates to us. Make us good stewards of this material as we walk through it. Help this not to be just another thing in another Bible study, but we pray that the book of James would go through us, and we would be different; we would think differently because of it. We will be careful to give You all the praise and the glory and we ask these things in Jesus’ Name. Amen!