James: Pure & Practical Wisdom (Week 4)

 The wise are impartial.

James 2:1-13
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism.

At the beginning of chapter 2, James now tackles the problem that favouritism plays within communities.  His essential point is that favouritism and faith in Christ don’t mix. In fact, they contradict each other.  Faith comes from the Word, but favouritism comes from the world.  Faith brings salvation, but favouritism leads to sin.  Although favouritism can play out in all sorts of ways, James specifically addresses the discriminate treatment of the poor compared to the wealthy within the context of community.

James was writing at a time when under the Roman Empire with it’s development of roads, security and peace, the potential to make money through trade was great.  Many of the Jews scattered throughout the diaspora became wealthy because of their ability to freely trade.  As a result a great gap between the rich and poor began to emerge.  And so a very real temptation for christians in community was to judge the other based on their external appearances and success.

But partiality is a complete contradiction of our belief in God.  It is not the way that God treats people.  It is not the way that He has treated us.  The truth is, that a person who is rich in faith is wealthy and that is God’s outlook and so should it be ours.  When God chooses someone in Christ he makes them an heir.  Not just a son, but also an heir.  In Christ, no matter our station in this life, we will one day inherit everything that is His.     We have a huge legacy coming to us.  What a wonderful truth! And may we treat others with this same outlook and mercy!

Listen to the full sermon and other sermons in this series here.

Questions to discuss in groups:

If you were to describe what favouritism is how would you define it?

Take a moment as a group to read out loud James 2:1-13.

  • In what ways is favouritism unworthy of the Lordship of Jesus Christ?
  • What do you observe about James’ example of favouritism being played out in the community of believers?  According to James what does favouritism look like in practise?
  • How does favouritism play out within our community?
  • How might keeping the “royal law” protect us from discrimination?
  • Is there ever a time that we as christians should be discriminate or use judgment? What ought to be the criteria for our judgment?
  • In verse 13 James speaks again of the law that gives freedom (see also 1:25), what is this law and with what measure will we be judged by it?
  • How is it that mercy triumphs over judgment?
  • Is there anything that the Lord is speaking to you about from this passage?

For Personal Reflection:

  • Take some time to think through the different communities you are involved with, how does favouritism play out in those circumstances, and in what ways could you be an ambassador for mercy in those contexts?
James 2:12-13
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Wisdom for each day:

Monday: Don’t let the spots stick.

Max Lucado in his children’s book “You are Special” tells the story about a village of wood carved people called Wemmicks.  In this village, the people spend their days sticking star stickers on those who perform well and spot stickers on those who don’t.  Sadly one little Wemmick by the name of Pulcinello finds himself only with spot stickers.  One day Pulcinello notices a Wemmick who has no stickers on her, neither the spots nor the stars seem to stick to her.  Intrigued Pulcinello discovers her secret, it is that she spends time with the wood carver Eli and the more time she spends with him the more the stickers don’t stick. I love this story and the truth it conveys.  The more we understand what God thinks about us, the less what other people think will stick. Maybe there have been significant people in your life who have spoken words over you that have continued to stick to you. May you know today that what God thinks matters most and He thinks you are worth dying for.

Tuesday: Be careful not to stick spots on others.

Jesus says in Matthew 7, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Jesus in the same vein also talks about forgiveness and that if we do not forgive others their sins, we will not be forgiven. (Matt 6:14-16) There is an incredible connection between our relationship with God and our relationship with others.  The truth is that our relationship with Jesus should have a transformative and redemptive affect on our relationship with others.  If we are judging others and not forgiving them then we are behaving in direct opposition to the message of the gospel.  Instead as those who have been saved through faith in Christ we have an opportunity to show people what God thinks of them by the way we treat them.  Let’s pray today that we might have opportunity to show God’s heart towards others through our behaviour towards them. 

Wednesday: Mercy!

As a kid, catching the bus to school we used to regularly play a game known as “mercy”.  It was a game in which two people would compete with one another by holding each others hands and then attempting to manouver the other person into a position of immense pain.  You were the winner when the other person cried out “mercy!” This game ironically illustrates what mercy is.  It is when the stronger party chooses to release the weaker from their imprisonment of pain. We might not consider ourselves as strong but we all have the power to either cause pain or alleviate pain in others.  Whether that be emotional pain, spiritual pain or physical pain.  It is our choice.  With God’s help and out of love for Him, we can choose to be merciful.  I wonder how could you use your power/influence to show mercy instead of judgment?

Thursday: When mercy triumphs over judgment. 

In Les Miserable there is a powerful scene when Jean Valjean after being released from prison is taken in and given food by a priest. Valjean in turn, steals some silver cutlery from the priest.  When Jean Valjean is caught with the silver and is brought back by the authorities to the priests home instead of condemning Jean Valjean for his theft the priest instead shows mercy.  He declares, “Ah! here you are!”  “I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, why did you not take them also with the forks and spoons that I gave you?” In this single moment, it is mercy that triumphs over judgment.  The Priest, with every right to condemn the man, instead releases him and lavishes generosity upon him.  This single act of mercy stays with Jean Valjean for the rest of his life.  We are all like Jean Valjean; we deserve condemnation but instead God shows us mercy in Jesus Christ.  He says, “Ah! But here you are….what is mine is yours…take it!”    This is the power of mercy.  When judgment gives us what we deserve, mercy gives us what we don’t deserve and it is mercy not judgment that transforms lives forever.

Friday: Living out the greatest commandment.

In Luke 10, in response to Jesus sharing the greatest commandment, a religious scholar asks “who is my neighbour?” Jesus responds by telling this story:“There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

33-35 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”37 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Saturday: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.  

Recently we watched this wonderful movie, “Wonder” and in it the children in a classroom are encouraged to learn precepts. One of the precepts is, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  How true it is that we so often only catch a glimpse of what might be going on in people’s lives, what they may be facing and what has lead them to their current circumstances in life.   This is why it is only God who is qualified to pass judgment over people as it is He and He alone who sees into the heart of a man and what lays there. We however, have an opportunity to be kind and refrain from passing judgment. Who could you be kind to today?