FAITH ON DISPLAY IN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
College students often have difficulty writing a thesis statement. I communicate to them that a thesis statement is the point of your paper (or sermon) in one sentence. James masterfully set forth his point in these verses with a strong thesis: “Do not show favoritism” (v. 1).
Don’t play favorites based on outward appearances. (1–4)
The term translated “favoritism” is an important concept in the Bible. A literal translation of the verse is, “My brothers and sisters, stop receiving face (basing evaluations of people on external factors) as you have the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” As believers, we show favoritism at church based on physical appearance, dress, economic status, ethnicity and other non-heart issues. James argues favoritism contradicts the faith “in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“The faith” most likely does not refer to saving faith, but rather our doctrinal beliefs. Christians affirm God’s love for the world (John 3:16), but we act contrary to God’s love when we play favorites based on outward appearances.
James described a possible (and likely) scenario to communicate his point. The church usher says (the Greek verb is a command) to a wealthy person, “You sit here in a good place.” The usher commands a poor person, “Stand over there” in an inconspicuous location or “Sit here on the floor by my (the usher’s) footstool,” the posture of a slave or servant in the first century. The church and usher have made distinctions. The term translated “distinctions” means judgments based on externals. Is your church willing to receive people of different backgrounds or monetary statuses? Or does your church make distinctions and evaluations based on externals?
Don’t play favorites by discounting those God desires to use. (5–7)
The brother of Jesus highlights God’s view of people. James begins with a command, “Listen.”
He reminds his readers all Christian are called by God to live with Kingdom values. The poor, for example, are rich heirs of the Kingdom. James reminds his readers of the words of Jesus: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matt. 7:2). While the believers in the church have dishonored the poor in favor of the rich, the rich have oppressed believers and blasphemed “the good name that was invoked over you.” The good name perhaps is the name “Christian” — a term that literally means “little Christ.” We are Christlike when we do not show favoritism.
Don’t play favorites because we are called to love others. (8–13)
James reminds his Christian readers we have a choice. We can either live in obedience to the royal law, or we can disobey and commit sin by showing favoritism. In verse 5, James referred to “heirs of the kingdom.” A kingdom necessitates a king. The King we follow has a royal law, namely, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Failure to obey the royal law by showing favoritism means God’s royal law will convict a person as a transgressor. James claimed God’s law is a “law of freedom.” God’s law is liberating rather than oppressive. An unnamed Christian stated, “We are most free when we are in submission to Him.”
By Mark Rathel
Professor at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida