Read James 2:1-13
1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (NIV)
James transitions from the words we speak to the actions we take in everyday life. He begins with what he would call the sin of favoritism or discrimination. He uses the example of an obliviously rich person verses a poor person who comes into a worship service. James says we should treat the two the same. James makes an interesting point in verse 6. He points out that often times, the ones we show favoritism to are the same people who are exploiting us and using us for their advantage.
I have found that this is a difficult task for churches to do. Often churches will fall all over the big givers. In fact, I have seen in my life where large givers then want to dictate what the church does and use their giving as leverage. This is exactly what James says in the rich are the ones who are using you. I have also found that some of the largest givers in a church can be some of the most unassuming people in the church. They don’t demand to have their way. In fact, I am sure that people would be surprised at their giving. They are giving out of their love.
And this is what James gets at. Are you living the royal law – love your neighbor as yourself. If this is our guiding principle in our actions, then we are doing right. The word for “right” is actually the Greek word “kalos” which can mean to be in the right place or honestly or well. When we live out love of neighbor, we place ourselves in the right place.
As we look at what is happening in our country today in many places, we see the opposite of what James is saying. And yes, some of the problems have been around for many years. It is not just race that we discriminate on. I think we all have a problem with this is some form or another. Studies show that we make judgements about people within the first few seconds of meeting them. We size them up in our mind and then decide to show favoritism to them or not. We judge on dress, on language, on body weight, on economic status, on where you were born, on hair style, on whether one has tattoos. The list is actually quite long on the subtle things we discriminate on.
James reminds us to treat all with grace and mercy instead. I love the way he puts it in verses 12 and 13: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” Treat others knowing that God will one day judge us on who we act. One of the most powerful things we say when we actually pray the Lord’s prayer is to ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. This is one of the hardest things in life we do. But James reminds us that mercy triumphs over judgement.
We seem to always want forgiveness of our wrongs, but have trouble in forgiving others of their wrongs. We do this when we want to grade the severity of the wrongs. But James points out that one sin is just as bad as another. He points this out in verse 11 where he says just because you don’t murder, but you commit adultery, you are still a sinner and your fate is the same.
We are called to live as forgiven people. We are called to be people of mercy. This is what we must claim as a foundation of the way we live. It is hard, but over time, it will show to be lead to the best life possible. Yes, others will take advantage of it, but we will stand blameless before God.
What does living a life of showing mercy look like to you? Do you struggle with judging people, even in small ways? Have you shown mercy in your life when others might have been surprised by it? Have you had a time when you did not forgive, but then discovered that the wrong is like a cancer inside you and you needed to just let it go finally? I truly believe that is what showing mercy and forgiving does. We don’t have to carry the pain into our future.
Blessings and Peace