10 James 2.1-4 - Faith + Prejudice = No Faith


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Title: Faith + Prejudice = No Faith Text: James 2:1-4 FCF: We often struggle judging people by their external characteristics. Prop: Because judging and dividing ourselves by external standards is incompatible with the gospel, we must not show personal favoritism. Scripture Intro: NASB 95 [Slide 1] Turn in your bible to James chapter 2. Although chapter divisions help us to find the scriptures we are looking at much faster and although they typically do a good job at separating thoughts and ideas… they are not part of the original text of scripture. They were added in the 1200s. That being said, just because it is James 2, does not mean that James has left behind what he’s been talking about. James is still pointing out areas that their faith is deficient and thus areas that God is using trials to perfect them. One particular point of faith deficiency in these Jewish Christians, scattered throughout the Roman empire, is their socio-economic persecution. Most of those James writes to will be relatively poor. They left their possessions in Israel as they fled persecution from their countrymen who opposed this new Jewish heresy called - Christianity. So they arrive in these places, dominated by pagan worship, and are treated like outsiders because of their ethnicity and religion. How should they respond to such treatment? Well – it seems that they have not responded well. Their perspective on themselves, on wealth and status, and on the church itself – is not great. And James is going to correct it. I am in James 2. I’ll be reading from the New American Standard Bible – the 1995 edition. You can follow me in the pew bible on page 1361 or in whatever version you prefer. Transition: There are some very important and culturally relevant teachings in this passage that we must see and hear. Come with me as we dissect these things. I.) Making divisions in the body of Christ is incompatible with the gospel, so we must not show personal favoritism. (1-4a) a. [Slide 2] 1 – My brethren, i. This phrase when attached to a command is how James begins a new thought or moves the thought forward from where he has been. ii. He did this in verse 2 of chapter 1 and verse 16 of chapter 1. And now again here in verse 1 of chapter 2. iii. Up to this point he has been talking about the improper view of self and how that is a deficiency in our faith that God through trials can help to prune. iv. Now, still with an improper view of self, he will start combining much of what he has covered in this whole discussion of lacking an improper perspective on this world. v. Verses 1-13 of chapter 2 serve then as a wonderful application and summary of all that he has been talking about since verse 9 in chapter 1. vi. So what command does he issue this time? b. [Slide 3] Do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. i. Some translations say “do not to show favoritism.” Although this doesn’t change the meaning of the text in big ways – it does change the meaning slightly. ii. The command here from James is to not grasp, have, or hold onto a faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ and also grasp, have or hold favoritism or prejudice. iii. Certainly, this still means not to show favoritism – but the way James has structured the sentence seems to emphasize the incompatibility of prejudice and a faith in Christ. iv. We are drawn to similar compatibility issues that Christ pointed out like – “you cannot serve God and money.” And calling Him Lord while living lawlessly. Or believing on him but also doubting or denying Him. v. James points out that a faith in Christ that includes favoritism, is a contradictory faith. vi. But what kind of favoritism is James pointing to? Interestingly enough, it is an issue he has already addressed in chapter 1. c. [Slide 4] 2 – 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 3 – and 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,” i. I don’t want to spend a lot of time unpacking this but it is core to the interpretation and application of this text, so we must do a little unpacking. ii. First, is this an actual situation or is this a hypothetical? iii. Well, keeping with James’ pattern at the end of chapter 1 this seems to be a hypothetical situation. As we continue past our text this morning we’ll see that the exact situation may be hypothetical but the truth behind it is, unfortunately, not hypothetical. iv. The second item we need to discuss is the word for “assembly.’ The word for assembly used here is the word “synagogue.” Because of this, many interpreters struggle in two specific ways. 1. Is James speaking to Jewish Christians who are gathering at a Jewish worship center with other Jews who are not Christians. In that case, the rich would be characterized as those who are unbelievers and the poor would be believers. 2. Perhaps this is not talking about a building at all but more a gathering? If so, what kind of gathering? Is it for Christian worship or could be it a meeting similar to a church disciplinary meeting? I realize that second option may seem out of left field to you, but there are significant parallels to what James describes here and a 1st century Jewish court of law. v. Although it would certainly be true that most of James’ audience were probably poor – and although there is great similarity between the language of James and Jewish courts of law, it seems best to interpret this as a normal Christian gathering for worship. Meaning that all those who enter into this meeting are believers. vi. Several early church fathers use the word “synagogue” to describe a normal Christian gathering for worship. Meaning that this usage did not fade after Christianity and Judaism officially diverged. vii. James’ illustration as a whole, points once again to his audience’s lack of godly perspective on earthly wealth and status. viii. However, the last time he spoke of this, it was very personal. ix. What I mean by that is James’ words were addressed directly to the poor man and the rich man. In chapter 1 verses 9=11. What did he say? 1. They should not view their earthly wealth and status as some indication of God’s perspective of them. 2. Rather they should glory in their wealth in heaven and in coming to know and see their spiritual poverty on earth. x. But here James addresses others’ perspective of the rich man and the poor man. xi. Clearly James is connecting this to what he said was an expression of blameless holiness, in the care of those who could not care for themselves. The truly helpless. xii. So, what might impede someone’s care of the poor and helpless? xiii. James offers two impediments. xiv. The first, being a prejudice of favor given to the wealthy and the second being a prejudice of disfavor toward the poor. xv. Notice that both are condemned. It is neither right to show favor to a class of people based on their earthly wealth or status nor is it right to show disfavor to a class of people based on their earthly wealth or status. xvi. It is impossible to show favoritism or prejudice in the assembly and still hold a faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. xvii. Why do you suppose that is? What is the harm? xviii. James tells us the first of two repercussions for holding such contradictory positions. d. [Slide 5] 4 – have you not made distinctions among yourselves i. James words this as a question but it is surely rhetorical. ii. He intends exactly what he asks. iii. They have indeed made distinctions among themselves. iv. Why is this so egregious? v. The bible as whole goes to great lengths to lump all of natural man into one group. vi. And when someone is placed into Christ, when they are adopted into God’s family – they disappear again into a communal identity. vii. Just as all men in Adam inherit the status of sinners who are unable and unwilling to seek and obey God – so all men in Christ inherit the identical status with one another. viii. Paul points out that there is neither Jew, nor Greek, nor slave, nor free, nor male, nor female. For we are all one in Christ. (Gal 3:28) ix. Based on James’ teaching here – we could add to that list – rich or poor. x. When we are united to Christ by faith – all external status indicators that are so important in this world are neutralized in Him. xi. So, to show favor or prejudice based on these external markers that no longer matter in Christ – is to drive a wedge of disunity and division in the body of Christ. A wedge that does not actually exist according to the Founder of the church – which is Christ. xii. Therefore, to make distinctions in this way – to favor the poor or the rich, to be prejudice against one ethnicity or favor another, to shame or glorify one gender over the other one – is to deny something fundamental to the gospel. xiii. Just as Noah and his family were saved because they were in the Ark – we are saved because we are in Christ. xiv. Imagine the foolishness if you will if Noah considered himself more important in the ark because he had more sheep on earth than Shem. Imagine Japheth considering himself more important than Ham because he had a wife that was of a certain ethnicity and Ham did not. All while they tottered on the waves of the apocalyptic flood. xv. So too for us it makes no sense to assign favor or prejudice to someone within the body of Christ. xvi. We are all wretched sinners to whom God has freely given grace. xvii. It is important to balance this on the other side though. Because in our culture and in some brands of Christianity this concept is applied too far the other way. xviii. These distinctions don’t become meaningless. Gentiles in Acts 15 were told very specifically that they could not perform certain practices within the church – for the sake of their Jewish brothers. Women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men within the church. A slave was still told to submit to and obey his master regardless of whether they were both believers or not. xix. AND ALSO, internal faith distinctions still matter. As with the distinction of qualification for the offices and responsibilities of Elder and Deacon. xx. But there ought not be any external characteristic of ours that causes the assembly to treat someone better or worse than another. This holds true across the board. 1. Even though women cannot teach and exercise authority over a man, it doesn’t mean they are separated from the worship of God or put in an inferior category as though they are somehow less than men and not able to handle or understand the finer details of doctrine. 2. Just because the Gentiles had to submit to ceasing from certain pagan practices associated with worship, did not mean that they were not permitted to sing songs of praise with everyone else or hold the office of Elder or Deacon, or be forced to serve in a lesser function. 3. Though Elders are to be submitted to and followed – even Elders are not above the Scriptures, therefore they are not free to teach something that the scriptures do not teach. If they sin, they are not to be shown partiality, either by being overly hard on them or by being easy on them. And in their selection, no consideration should be given to the color of their skin, their ethnicity or their wealth, the quality of their English, or any other external factor that the bible does not specify. xxi. Showing favor or prejudice over external characteristics to the point of dividing the body is a despicable attitude that cannot coincide with a faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. You can’t have both. e. [Slide 6] Passage Truth: So, the doctrinal truth that James conveys to his audience is that showing favor or prejudice against another member of the body of Christ causes division. f. Passage Application: So, they must hold their faith in the glorious Jesus Christ without prejudice and favoritism. g. [Slide 7] Broader Biblical Truth: But does the bible as a whole teach this concept? Is it really divisive to show favor toward a group of people because of something external or to show prejudice against a group of people because of something external? Isaac had a favorite son in Esau. Jacob had a favorite parent in Rebecca. He had a favorite wife in Rachel. He had a favorite son in Joseph and later in Benjamin. How did that go for him? Certainly God used Jacob’s family history of favoritism to providentially restore Israel – but can we say it was good for him to show favor? In Romans 1-3 Paul makes the case that all men, Jew or Gentile, are equally lost and unable and unwilling to seek after God or obey Him. And right in the middle of that Paul says that with God there is no partiality. If we are to be restored image bearers, united with Christ, indwelled with the Spirit of God, a Kingdom of Priests – ought we not be like God and show no partiality? Ought we to see the body of Christ as a unified body and not as rich and poor, old and young, strong and weak, men and women, black and white? There is so much attacking the church and trying to divide us. Why invite more division by showing favor or prejudice against external things that don’t matter? h. Broader Biblical Application: And that brings us CBC to our application. We must hold fast to a pure and unadulterated faith. We are trusting, hoping, following, clinging to, disappearing into, and relying fully on Christ and Christ alone. He is our hope. We are His body. You cannot add a deep-seated favoritism or prejudice to your faith in Christ and expect everything to be fine. Faith in Christ plus favor or prejudice does not equal faith in Christ. Transition: [Slide 8 (blank)] We’ll talk more specifics in a moment, but there is a greater repercussion that we must get to. And it is in the second phrase at the end of verse 4. II.) Being judges over one another with evil motives is incompatible with the gospel, so we must not show personal favoritism. (4b) a. [Slide 9] 4b – and become judges with evil motives? i. Although it would certainly make my seminary professors cringe – this point will be a good deal shorter than the last one. ii. But in the way that James has structured his opening statements in chapter 2, the only real separate point he is making is in this short addition to his critique on showing favor or prejudice. iii. Not only does showing favor or prejudice work to divide by making distinctions in ways that there ought not be distinctions… but it also turns those who make distinctions into something they should not be. iv. First it turns them into judges. v. This is wordplay here in the Greek that we wouldn’t see in the English. The word for distinctions has the same root word that the word “judges” has. vi. Because of this word, commentators think that this is some kind of Jewish court – but more likely James means this pejoratively. As an insult. We can see that especially because of the word play. vii. You are making distinctions and have become evil distinguishers. You are judgmental and evil judges. These are poor attempts to capture the “Aha moment” in the Greek. But you get the idea. viii. The scripture does tell us to judge one another. For all the people who quote the bible “judge not” I have rarely found one that quotes it rightly. ix. You see we are to judge others – but only after examining our own life and only to genuinely help them get the speck out of theirs. x. Why does the text tell us to judge not then? Because we are going to be judged the same way we judge others. If someone is trying to get sin out of your life and they are not encumbered by that sin also – wouldn’t you want that kind of judge? xi. But the kind of judgment we are speaking of here is making a determination. xii. They have determined to show favor to one and prejudice to another and begun to carry that out based solely on external characteristics. Like wealth or poverty. Like ethnicity. Like gender. xiii. They have a self-motivated reason for showing favor to the rich and prejudice to the poor. xiv. This makes their judgment evil. b. [Slide 10] Passage Truth: So, James’ point of teaching here is subtly different than his first point. He shows us that not only are they showing distinctions and causing division in the church with their prejudice – but they are also being evil motivated judges trying to get something from those whom they show favor, and not be obligated to those to whom they show prejudice. c. Passage Application: Once again their response must be a hearty dismissal of any favoritism or prejudice but the why of this passage is even more important than the what. Why must they not show favor or prejudice? Because such attitudes are not compatible with a faith in Christ. d. [Slide 11] Broader Biblical Truth: But does the bible truly teach this? Is a person who shows ethnic, socio economic, gender, or any other prejudice based on external characteristics – are their motives truly evil? Are they making judgments about people with evil motives? Who does God choose? Does He not choose the weakest? Abram a man from Ur with nothing to his name. Jacob the second born. Joseph the outcast. Moses the murderer. Samuel the altar boy. David the youngest son of Jesse. Mary a nobody from Galilee. The disciples 12 young men who were fishermen, zealots, tax collectors and no one special. Why? So his power can be made known in their weakness. So He would be given glory not them. What about when people chose who they thought was best. Like Saul the first King of Israel. Chosen because he was tall and handsome. Chosen because he would make a great warrior king. Chosen so Israel would be like every other nation. How well did that go? What about when Lot chose the best land to settle in. Chosen to give his flocks and herds abundant water and food. Chosen because it would benefit him. How well did that go? Does God judge by the outward appearance or does He judge by the heart? Jesus in John 7 tells the crowd to not make judgments based on external appearance. And In Leviticus 19, God told the judges of Israel to not be a respecter of persons according to wealth or status but instead to judge justly. Truly judgments that elevate some or lower others because of external appearance are evil and not in accordance with a faith in Christ. e. Broader Biblical Application: So, my friends we must be very careful not to make distinctions or make evil judgments of those who are among us. We are the body of Christ – together. And we are a diverse group. We come from many backgrounds with many ethnic histories. We are two genders – because that is all there is.

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