Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 4

Favouritism Forbidden – James 2:1-13

Based on a sermon from Sunday 15th May 2022

Wow, these are tough words from James.  He pulls no punches!  He is holding nothing back.  He is being totally blunt, telling the fullness of God’s truth, the truth that we need to know in order to live a life of obedience to God.  Those we know who are blunt can be a challenge to us, perhaps so much so that we avoid them if we see them when we are out.

James 2:13 says, “Because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.”  But he concludes by saying, “Mercy triumphs over judgement.”  What a hard hitting verse!  We’ll unpack this a little this morning.

We’re continuing our series on the Epistle of James under the banner of “Holiness, Me and the Church”.  Our theme this morning is “Favouritism Forbidden”.  When looking for the meaning from any passage, it is always important to look at the context.  This chapter, and indeed, as I have said previously the whole book of James, is a letter from the apostle James (Jesus’ half-brother) to the Church about practical Christian living.  Not only does it deal with how to respond to God, but also how to maintain a Christ-like relationship with others.  If we find it uncomfortable to read then we should not avoid it by skipping over it, instead we should make a conscious decision to dig into it so that we learn, listen and let it shape our Christian lifestyle, so we become true “doers” of the word.

Our reading this morning is the first half of chapter 2.  It addresses the favouritism some believers were showing toward the rich at the expense of the poor (v1–9).  James then goes on to speak about the Law and how breaking even one of God’s commands makes one guilty of breaking all of them – one infraction is all it takes to make one a lawbreaker (v10–11).  While some in the church may have seen favouritism as a “lesser” sin, James informed them that any sin, no matter how small it seems, constitutes breaking the entirety of God’s Law for His people.

James clearly condemns acts of favouritism.  Often we treat a well-dressed, impressive looking person better than someone who looks shabby.  Why do we do this?  We do this because we would rather identify with successful people than with apparent failures.  The irony, as James reminds us, is that the supposed winners may have gained their impressive life-style at our expense.  In addition, the rich find it difficult to identify with the Lord Jesus, who came as a humble servant.  Are you easily impressed by status, wealth, or fame?  Are you partial to the “haves” while ignoring the “have-nots’?  This attitude is sinful.  God views all people as equals, and if He favours anyone, it is the poor and the powerless. We should follow His example and love our neighbour.

Why is it wrong to judge a person by his or her economic status?  Wealth may indicate intelligence, wise decisions, and hard work.  On the other hand, it may mean only that a person had the good fortune of being born into a wealthy family.  Or it can even be the sign of greed, dishonesty, and selfishness.  By honouring someone just because he or she dresses well we are making appearance more important than character.  Sometimes we do this because:

  1. poverty makes us uncomfortable; we don’t want to face our responsibilities to those who have less than us;
  2. we want to be wealthy too, and we hope to use the rich person as a means to that end;
  3. we want the rich person to join our church and help support it financially.  All these motives are-selfish; they view neither the rich nor the poor person as a human being in need of fellowship. If we say that Christ is our Lord, then we must live as He requires, showing no favouritism and loving all people regardless of whether they are rich or poor.

James 2:12–13 fits right into the flow of the previous verses of our sinful attitudes towards others.  Verse 12 says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom.”

James teaches believers that they are no longer held under the old Law; instead, they are under a new law of freedom that was established through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  As born-again believers we are under the New Covenant.  This liberty, which comes through the gospel of Christ, gives us freedom from the power of sin.  James is saying, live your life in such a way that proves that you expect to answer to God some day for your actions.  No believer will be able to excuse his sin by saying, “I couldn’t help it,” because the cross of Christ did away with that bondage.  We are under the law of liberty now.

In James 2:13, the thought is continued: “Because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.”

We dare not violate the law of liberty in our hearts by withholding mercy from others.  If we who have been shown such great mercy act unmercifully toward our neighbours, then we will be dealt with in similar fashion.  Jesus made the same point in the parable of the unforgiving steward (Matthew 18:23–35).  And the principle goes back to Solomon’s time: “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13).  James’ mention of “mercy” here corresponds to his mention of “love” in verse 8: the “royal law” is to love your neighbour as yourself.

This brings us to the final statement of James 2:13, “Mercy triumphs over judgement.” The idea is that mercy “glories” against judgement.  Knowing this truth, where mercy and judgment seem to conflict, mercy wins!  The good news for every child of God in Christ is that God’s mercy toward us will triumph over His judgement of us (see Romans 8:1 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus). Our sins may argue against us, but Christ is our loving Advocate who argues for us and prevents us from receiving the judgement we deserve.  We, in turn, are to display God’s type of mercy toward others.

So in essence, James 2:13 tells us that since God will judge us with mercy, we as recipients and thus bearers of His mercy, should judge others with His mercy.  Being merciful is an act that shows our thankfulness for all God has done, and this is only made possible through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.

Mercy Triumphs over Judgement, showing no Favouritism (James 2:13)

Our amazing God is a God of mercy, a mercy that shows no favouritism.  Jesus revealed such mercy through His life and teachings.

Jesus answers a lawyer’s question by asking a question at the end of a parable which begins and ends with a wounded man who is the focus for three people on a journey (Luke 10:30,35). They are from different classes — a Jewish priest (Luke 10:31), a member of the Jewish tribe of Levite who assisted the work of the priests at the temple (Luke 10:32) and a Samaritan (Luke 10:33, 35). They arrive, see and respond.  I’m sure the parable of the Good Samaritan is familiar to you.

Vincent van Gogh’s painted this parable.  He portrays mercy as action-orientated, interactive and found in unexpected places.  It has been said that the mercy can be described as the willingness to enter into the chaos of others and journey with them.

All three men journeying to Jericho saw the wounded man, but only the Samaritan had a heart moved with compassion, “he took pity on him” (Luke 10:33).  He was moved from the depths of his being.  Through compassion he knew something had to be done to address the need he felt in his heart.

We find this pattern in two other parables – when the father sees his lost son return (Luke 15:20) and when a person is caught in a huge debt (Matthew 18:24–25, 27).  Jesus’ life and actions are the incarnation of God’s mercy: when He met the funeral of the widow’s son “his heart went out to her” (Luke 7:13);when He healed the blind men He “he had compassion on them” (Matthew 20:34).  This is also repeated on many other occasions too. 

The Samaritan’s response to the wounded man showed generosity and care above cultural expectations.  Today we see the Samaritan as “good” for coming to the wounded man’s aid who we presume to be a Jew from Jerusalem.

But who was the Samaritan?  There are some indications in the story.  He could have been a merchant or trader.  He journeys (Luke 10:33), he has an animal to carry his goods and he has with him two items typical of trade at the time – oil and wine (Luke 10:34).  Traders were unpopular with peasants who regarded them as part of the system that oppressed and exploited them.  Traders were despised by the elites who regarded them as new wealth and upstarts.

The Samaritan showed mercy to the wounded man and drew on all he had available to care for him.  He used the medicinal qualities of oil and wine on his wounds and fabric for bandages.  His animal carried the wounded man to the inn paying for the stay at the inn with coins he put himself into debt and gave himself and the man he was helping into the hands of the innkeeper.  This is mercy in action, triumphing over judgement.

This parable guides us into the works of mercy: we see a need, then having a heart moved with compassion we decide how to respond to the need the heart has felt.  In a world of structural sin where political and economic systems function to benefit those with power and wealth, immense harm is done to the majority of people.  Godly mercy takes us to the root causes of suffering and injustice, to the works of justice, it shows no favouritism towards anyone for all are equal in God’s sight.

The lawyer to whom Jesus told the parable could not cope with where he found mercy.  Instead of answering with the term Samaritan, he answers Jesus saying: “the one who showed mercy.”

In Van Gogh’s painting we see a portrayal of the giving and receiving of mercy: there is no favouritism or judgement.  If we want to be a welcoming Church here, how might we as followers of Christ, give and receive justice and mercy to those wounded by our society that is stacked up against the “have nots”?

Alleluia! Christ is risen….

Living thoughts

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the sermon and the two passages from Scripture: James 2:1-13 and Luke 10:25-37, and let them speak to you afresh in light of remaining steadfast to the Gospel.  As God speaks to you why not write down (in your journal) what you sense God is saying to you.

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Digging into God’s Word

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond these questions.  As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Looking at our Church identity below, how can we better minister to those in our community who are in need?

RedBRick Church Identity

Safe Haven – A trustworthy, rooted and reliable place of welcome, comfort and restoration

Divine – A people who are honest and raw and reflect the supernatural realms of heaven

Illuminating – A beacon of light and love to the community, which guides safe passage through the storms of life

Generous – An abundant blessing to the community which reaches out, cares and bears the burdens of others

Courageous – A bold and strong people who are equipped to protect and fight in the battle-

Together – A united people who value, include and lift one another up as we travel to our joint destination

  • What situations have you found yourself in when you were tempted to show favouritism?
  • In what way does God avoid showing favouritism?
  • How does God show grace and love to all people?

Prayer Response

God, I pray for a softening of my heart, an openness to your Word, and for spiritual awakening in my soul and spirit. I pray that your fruit, planted in me by your Word, will yield a harvest hundred-fold more than was sown, for your glory’s sake.

God, I pray for your word to bear fruit in the lives of all families, all churches and all communities, and among the nations that we will witness revival in your name. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.