JUDGMENT IN REAL LIFE
Series: Real Faith in Real Life - Part Four
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 2, 2013
Please join me at James 2 - staring at verse 1. Today we’re moving into a different section of James’ letter.
In chapter one James focused on trials - the struggles and difficulties we go through in life. The temptations we face in life - especially when life gets hard - and it does - the temptation to take the bait - to choose to get hooked into a self-destructive pattern of sin. James has been focusing us on the bottom line choice that we have in every trial and temptation - to choose to continue trusting our own whit, wisdom, and working - which ultimately is about me, myself, and I. Or, to choose to seek God - to seek His wisdom - to live obedience to His word. To allow Him to use what we’re going through to transform us to be who God has created and called us to be.
James’ point in chapter one is that real faith in God - trusting God in the real time drama of our lives - is used by God to produce real stability in our lives. Choose to trust God in the midst of life’s drama and no matter what life throws at us God will guide us through the storm. God’s purposes in us and through us will be accomplished. We will know the huge blessing of God being with us through all that.
Chapter two begins a new section of James’ teaching. James is going to focus us on this truth: Real faith in real time produces real love. What can real faith look like in our relationships with others?
James is going to give us a series of teachings - with illustrations - teachings and illustrations for us to compare our lives to. What do our actions tell us about our faith? Is our faith kind of a shallow faith of convenience and culture? Is our faith a deep faith - coming from the core of who we are? Or maybe someplace in between?
Charles H. Spurgeon - Baptist pastor of London, England - had a pastor friend, Dr. Newman Hall, who wrote a book entitled Come To Jesus. How’s that for a deep - faith inspiring - title?
Another pastor published an article in which he ridiculed Hall. Hall handled the ridicule patiently at first. But, when the article ridiculing him gained popularity - Hall sat down and wrote a letter of protest. The kind of letter - or response - that most of have churned over and over in our minds on the few occasions when something’s been done to us.
Hall’s letter was full of retaliatory invectives - caustic - stinging stuff - that outdid anything in the article that attacked him. Before mailing the letter, Hall took it to Spurgeon for his opinion.
Spurgeon read it carefully then, handed it back, said it was excellent and that the writer of the article - ridiculing Hall - deserved everything that Hall had written. “But,” Spurgeon added, “it just lacks one thing.” After a pause Spurgeon continued. “Underneath your signature you ought to write the words, ‘Author of Come To Jesus.’”
The two godly men looked at each other for a few moments. Then Hall tore up his letter. (1)
Intellectually we can understand so much about God. But, its living out our faith in the practical stuff of life that really shows us where our heart is - if we’re really trusting God. Right? That’s where James is coming from here. Practical teaching - with examples - to show us the reality of our faith in God as we’re living life with others.
James 2 - let’s read verse 1 together: My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.
Verse 1 is James’ Principle - his main point here in verses 1 to 13. Real faith and partiality are incompatible. We’re either living by one or the other. There’s no riding the fence.
Let’s be careful. There’s a difference between discernment and partiality.
Discernment means applying God’s wisdom and insight - grasping from God’s perspective what is often times not easily seen. Discernment is God focused wisdom driving our responses to who or what comes into our lives.
Partiality is self-focused. The word in Greek has the idea of “receiving the face.” Seeing things only at face value. We form an opinion of someone based on our first impression. Its prejudice - pre-judging someone - forming an opinion before we know all the facts. And, if we’re focused on ourselves - we’re not going to choose to go deeper than that. Why would we? There’s no benefit to me.
Partiality is when our response to people is being driven by me, myself, and I. Being driven by our selfish desire for others to benefit us.
God sends the prophet Samuel to the house of Jesse. God is going to choose a successor to King Saul. Samuel goes down the line of the sons of Jesse - from the oldest on down. Eliab - the eldest - is brought out. He’s an impressive handsome young man. Samuel thought, “Surely this is the one God has chosen.” This guy just looks like a king.
But God says to Samuel, “Nope. Not him. Don’t judge him based on his appearance. I’ve rejected him.” God gives Samuel and explanation. “God doesn't’ see a man as man does. Man looks at the outward appearance. But God looks at the heart.” Remember this?
God sends Samuel down the line of the sons until the only one left is David - the youngest - who’s out watching the sheep. God says, “This is the one.” (1 Samuel 16)
You can’t judge a book by its - what? cover. God’s perspective of people goes way deeper than our less than skin deep opinions.
James writes, “Don’t show partiality.” Notice that its a command given to who? Those who have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. A command given to those who said they had real faith.
That’s hard to hear. As I’ve been processing this I’m not sure I want to go where James is pointing us.
Let’s be honest. It is way too easy for us to fall into the trap of judging people based on externals. The color of their skin. How many piercings or tattoos they have. Their past. Where they live or don’t. The job they have or don’t. Their politics. Their involvement at Creekside. Where they are spiritually. Whether they’re home schooled or public schooled. The list is seemingly endless. The potential for us to have a blind spot here is huge.
And, once we’ve raced to our opinion - having our mind made up - it is an easy jump from there to acting irrationally based on our prejudice - showing preference - showing partiality to be people - treating some people different that others.
James’ point? If we’re really living by faith in God then we’re going to be seeking to treat people - not based on the externals we see - but we’re going to be seeking to treat people according to what God sees.
Let’s read verses 2 to 4 together: For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place.” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Verses 2 to 4 are James’ Illustration of his principle.
Looking the diagram we can get a better picture of what James is writing about. In the 1st century synagogue the pulpit or pulpits were near the center of the meeting hall. The Tabernacle - the place where the scrolls of the Law were kept - was at the front. Seating for the men was along the two sides by the pillars. The women and children were kept farther back - usually balcony seating.
Point being that the best seats in the synagogue - the seats of honor - were nearest the pulpit. Down at the center. Up front.
Now a days we tend to reverse that. Right? People seem to think the seats in the back are the best.
In James’ day if you were somebody you got ushered up front.
What James is writing about probably took place many times over as these Christian Jews gathered for worship. Someone wearing clothing that fit to their position in life - wealthy - noble - influential - a man comes wearing jewelry - fine clothing. Someone dressed to impress shows up at the synagogue. Contrast that with a man showing up with no jewels - shabby clothes - no entourage - no seeming influence.
To the average synagogue goer seeing this the rich is noticeably rich and the poor is noticeably poor. The rich man is someone who could change our life with a snap of his fingers. The poor guy isn’t going to change anybody’s life.
In James’ illustration the ushers - going on first impressions only - showing partiality - the ushers escort the rich man down to the front - the best seats in the synagogue - and the poor man gets shoved to the back - maybe given a place on the floor.
James writes, - when we make these distinctions - its because - verse 4 - “we have become judges with evil thoughts.” Thoughts that - implied in the Greek - thoughts that literally come out of the pit of hell. Thinking influenced by Satan. Thoughts that are 180 degrees contrary to the heart of God towards people.
Let’s be careful. There’s nothing essentially wrong with being rich - or poor. What James is illustrating is the motive behind the behavior. Helping us to think about why we do what we do in the ways we treat others.
Back in 1989 before the fall of the Soviet Union I had the opportunity to lead a group of youth on a tour in Armenia. In the Communist days there were restaurants that were reserved only for “special” people - those favored by the party - or people the party was trying to impress.
We were taken to one of these restaurants. Not that we were really special people but our presence there was being used to impress people. So, in that sense we were special.
That night around the table there were writers - PhD’s of this and that - political people - party hacks - “special people.” In typical fashion - there was a lot of alcohol - cognac - vodka - beer - wine - if it was alcohol and you could drink it - it was there. There was also some food. If you were into that sort of thing. There was a lot of toasting and speech making.
Every time someone got up to say something they had to make a toast and everyone had to drink more alcohol. Each time someone got up to make a speech they tried to outdo the last guy’s speech. On and on - each one talking more eloquently about the virtues of the next guy - empty - worthless - compliments and praise.
Being sober and not totally understanding all of what I was hearing was a real blessing. The whole night was a study in sincere insincerity. People treating others nicely because of what they could gain from them - evil thoughts.
That kind of ungodly behavior goes on all the time around us in the places we do life. A world under the influence of Satan. Behavior James shows us - attitudes and behavior that should never be a part of our lives as Christians. In our relationships here in the church and out there in our relationships. James says - bottom line - its sin. Don’t go there.
Going on to verse 5. Verses 5 to 11 are James’ Reasons. James giving us three reasons why partiality is wrong for those with real faith.
Let’s read verses 5 to 11 together: Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
Three reasons why partiality is wrong for those with real faith. Reason number one is Theological - choosing is a God thing.
James writes - verse 5: “God choose the poor of the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?”
Who’s choice? God’s choice. God doesn’t hold a congregational meeting and ask for a vote on who He should save. Choosing is a God thing. Not a people thing.
God has chosen to save the poor right along with the rich. Not everyone here is wealthy with the stuff of the world. Some here are struggling to make ends meet. But, we’re all still an integral part of this congregation.
God has chosen to bless the poor. Not just tolerate them or put up with them. To keep them around so he can help ‘em out on occasion. But to lavish His love on them. To those who love Him, He makes them to be fellow heirs of the riches of heaven - of the Kingdom of God. Regardless of our financial bottom line - spiritually - bottom line - we’re siblings in Jesus.
James is using the distinctions of poor and rich to illustrate his point. But we need to grab this also - James’ illustration touches a truth that goes way beyond being poor or rich - way beyond even who sits where in the church.
God has chosen people with different colored skin - who speak different languages - who don’t dress like we do - who have shorter hair than we do - who may be in a different place socially - mentally - emotionally - spiritually - than we are. They may even be more messed up that we are.
These are people that God loves. He’s chosen them to be our siblings in Jesus. Chosen - like us - not on the basis of what’s outside - but chosen on the basis of God’s love, grace, and mercy.
If the choosing weren’t up to God none of would be here. Amen?
If God has chosen these people - us - who are we to show partiality?
James’ second reason comes in verse 6: But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
Reason number two - why partiality is wrong for those with real faith - reason number two - its Logical. James writes in verse 6 that the poor are dishonored.
James is writing to Jewish Christians spread throughout the Roman Empire. Jews who were tied ethnically to the homeland - the old country. But, many of them had never been there. They’ve been born someplace else. For many - Hebrew was a second language - maybe even a third language - after Greek and Latin. Culturally they were Jewish. But they lived in a Gentile world.
To the Jews of Jerusalem - the Diasporan Jews were always second class - always looked down on. Never really fully Jewish. To the Gentiles that surrounded them they were less than second class. Those who were Christian Jews were below the lowest class - despised by both the Jews and the Gentiles - oppressed - exploited. Both by wealthy Gentiles and wealthy Jews.
These Christian Jews were living in poverty - destitute. Economically they were in serious trouble. Their businesses were boycotted. They’d lost their jobs. They’re being dragged into court and cleaned out.
James writes, your oppressors - the rich - they don’t give a rip about God. They’re against God. They blaspheme God. They have no respect for you or what you believe. They’re against the people God’s chosen to love.
So James asks, why are you giving preferential treatment to the people who are exploiting you? Its like insisting on buying gas at $5 a gallon. “I know I’m getting ripped off at $3.95. But, I’ll pay more because you’re such a wonderful gas company. I’ll pay $10 a gallon ‘cause you’re giving me 1% back on my gas card.”
Spend more save more. That’s logical. Isn’t it?
We don’t often think in these extreme terms. But when we show partiality - when we’re sucking up to the world - or doing church the way the world does world - we’re dishonoring our siblings in Jesus - and others that God calls us to love - we’re allied with their oppressors.
We’re marching lock step in line with a world system under the delusion of Satan. We’re helping to promote a system that’s blaspheming the name of our Savior. A system that’s oppressing our siblings in Jesus and everyone else out there we should be serving.
Reason number three - why partiality is wrong for those with real faith - comes in verses 8 to 11 - that is Scriptural. Its what God commands.
Verse 8: If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
The Greek word for “royal” is “basilikos.” It has the idea of something belonging to a king. The royal law governs - like a king - governs over all the other laws.
James is quoting Leviticus 19:18 - a verse that was familiar to his readers - as it is to us - a quote that should have brought to mind Jesus’ summary of God’s laws about how we’re to live in relationship with each other. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 7:12; 19:19; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14).
Keep this law and we’re doing what God commands us to do. On the other hand, when we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves we’re guilty of not doing what God commands us to do.
Verse 9: But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. We’re guilty of breaking God’s royal law. Of sin.
Verse 10: For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. One strike and you’re out.
Verse 11: For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
That may offend our pride. “Maybe I’ve got a few rough edges here. But, I’m not a murderer. I’m not an adulterer.” But, when we show partiality for selfish reasons - sin driven thinking - in God’s eyes we’re as guilty as if we were.
That’s intense. And that’s James’ point. In God’s eyes this is serious stuff. Show partiality and we’ve broken God’s command.
I ran across a poem in a sermon by David Roper who used to pastor with PBC.
Paul’s girl is rich and haughty;
My girl is poor as clay.
Paul’s girl is young and pretty;
My girl looks like a bale of hay.
Paul’s girl is smart and clever;
My girl is dumb, but good.
But would I trade my girl for Paul’s?
You bet your life I would! (2)
Everything we do in our relationships with each other should be governed by God’s commandment of love. God doesn’t give us qualifiers - whether someone looks like a bale of hay or not. Whether someone fits our definition of lovable or not we’re still commanded to love.
Three reasons to examine what’s going on in our heart - Theological - Logical - Scriptural. Are we self-focused or others focused? Bottom line: Self-focused or God focused?
James’ Application comes in verses 12 and 13. Let’s read these together: So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
The law of liberty is freedom. Remember this from last Sunday?
God - by His grace - by His choosing - in Christ, God sets us free. Sets us free from the law of sin and death - meaning if we sin - and we all do - we die - eternally punished - eternally separated from God.
God sets us from bondage to all that not to do what we want - follow our own selfish motives. But, the freedom to choose to do what we should - to be doers - to obey God - to live as God has created us and called us to live. In the drama of life to live by faith trusting God. As those set free, that’s the standard God holds us accountable to - judges us by. Are we living life God’s way?
To live by faith - meaning to live trusting God is to be set free from having to live needing to trust the world. That means that we’re looking only to God to meet whatever needs we have - spiritual - social - peer - personal - physical - financial - whatever.
That trust in God frees us from looking at people as potential benefactors for us - frees us to see them as potential benefiters of God’s love and mercy through us. Real faith in real life produces real love.
Verse 13: For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Do you remember Jesus’ conversation with Peter about forgiveness? Forgiving our brother 490 times. Point being its not the number of times its our heart attitude. Remember that?
Jesus follows that up with an illustration. Slave one owes the king 10,000 talents - an insurmountable debt. The king has mercy on slave one and forgives the debt.
Slave one goes out - finds slave two who owes slave one 100 denari - not a significant amount. Slave one demands payment from slave two and when slave two can’t pay back slave one, slave one does what to slave two? Has him thrown into prison.
All of which is Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question, “How many times do I need to forgive my brother?” Its not about the money - the amount - what you’re taking at face value - the externals and how all that effects you. Its the attitude of your heart that’s messing up your response to your brother. (Matthew 18:21-35)
Mercy is one of those realities of how God acts towards us that is hard - perhaps impossible - to get our minds around. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. We deserve eternal damnation.
Not knowing the extent of eternal damnation its hard to know the depth of God’s mercy. But we do know that whatever eternal damnation is its really really really bad and we’re hugely grateful for God’s love and grace and mercy - saving us from all that damnation. Amen?
We also know that if it wasn’t for God - God’s choosing to love us and be gracious and be merciful to us - we’d all be toast - forever. Amen?
James’ application point: As those who’ve been set free - who’ve been shown God’s mercy - if we can process enough of what that means to understand how undeserved and how great is God’s mercy towards us - as messed up as we’ve been - and still struggle with - that realization should hugely impact how we treat others around us - those who are also messed up and desperately needing God’s mercy.
If we really understand enough of the magnitude - the depth - the breadth - the scope of God’s choosing us - accepting us - then there’s no way we should act with selfish partiality towards others - towards anyone. God’s love - grace - mercy is about God - not us.
There is a huge opportunity here for us.
How many of you have ever been a road trip with your family? Sometimes that can be extremely intense. Family dynamics 101. Siblings crammed in the back seat of a car for hours who’d like to kill each other.
We don’t choose our siblings. We don’t choose our siblings in Christ. God does.
James’ application is not about us getting along like a bunch of cookie cutter Christian clones - where we all look, act, and talk alike - agreeing 100% on every fine point of doctrine and theology. Let’s get real. That ain’t gonna happen.
James’ application is about messed up people getting along with messed up people because we’re siblings in Christ by God’s choosing. His application is about messed up people coming alongside messed up people in a messed world and tangibly demonstrating the mercy of God.
Living life not based on faith in ourselves. Needing to take care of number one. But being set free to be merciful because God takes care of us.
Have you ever been in a check out line at store and there’s a seemingly overwhelmed parent - usually a mother - who’s there with kids who are into everything - running amok - obnoxious - having a meltdown. We’re together?
Most of the time we’re not thinking too highly of the kids - or the parents. Right? What kind of lack of parenting skills allows kids to behave like that? Sometimes what goes through my mind are suggestions and ways to improve those parenting skills.
Even if our own kids have had a meltdown in line - which happens. Most of the time we’re grateful to get away from all that. Grateful those kids aren’t our kids. Who’d want to be in a family like that?
Jesus opened up to His disciples the same opportunity as James is opening up here. Jesus put it this way: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have - what? love for one another.” (John 13:35)
We sing this song, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our - what? love.” That goes back a ways.
How we live - loving - gracious - merciful - or not - demonstrates to the world what it means to be God’s kids. What it means to be loved by God.
Which is a huge opportunity. God is opening up so much potential for us here. The possibilities are endless. If we can really trust God - get past ourselves - there is so much potential for people to know God’s love. For us to behave towards each other and in the places out there where we do life that is so radically different than how the world does life. So radically different that people will be drawn to Jesus - not only by the way we avoid killing each other - but in how we allow the love and grace and mercy of God to flow through us to each other and beyond.
What this all boils down to is trust - showing us the depth of our faith in God. Who do we trust to take care of us in life? Ourselves - and our manipulations - our speech - and abilities - our flattery and partiality? Or God who sincerely loves us. If we learn to trust God - then we can learn to sincerely love others.
Imagine our relationships with each other - husbands and wives - here in the church - at work - with people we don’t even know - homeless and in great need - if the basis of our relationships was not what we get - but what we give. Sincere love motivated to uphold the real value of a person - motivated by trust in God - without any expectation - or need - of personal gain.
1. Leslie B. Flynn, You Don’t Have To Go It Alone
2. David Roper, James 2:1-13: “The Case of the Near-Sighted Usher”
Additional reference: Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on James, 1 and 2 Peter - Zondervan, 2010
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.