Love, peace, mercy, and joy to you Beloved in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. What a joy to know God and to be known by Him in a saving and reconciled way in Jesus. The Bible says that the right hand of God are joys and pleasures forever more. (Ps.16:11) God is our joy and pleasure and hope and peace and every other good thing. We desire to grow in our adoration of Him today as He reveals Himself to us in His word. (Ps.5:7, I Chron.16:29)
Beloved, please open up your Bible to the book of James. Today we will read James 2:1-7. Hear the holy word of our holy God. Read.
James 2:1. My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 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,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
Please join me in prayer as we ask God to help us understand and obey His word today. Pray.
God the Holy Spirit through the apostle James commands us not to show sinful favoritism in the church of Jesus Christ. (Rom.2:11, Acts 10:34, Gen.37:4, Dt.10:17, Eph.6:9, Col.3:25, I Tim.1:25, Jas.3:17)
Specifically, James speaks about discriminating against poor or poorer Christians by the richer Believers. Included in this is God’s prohibition against all forms of sinful discrimination.
The inequality among men.
Obviously, God is calling us to unity and harmony in His church. (Ps.133:1-3) As Believers we are equally loved and forgiven by Christ. But before we consider the sameness that Believers enjoy together as Believers let’s consider certain forms of inequality among men.
There is a common saying in our land that all men are created equal. And some people think that this is a Bible quote. It is not.
Let me give you the fuller quote. It comes from the Declaration of Independence, by the United States Congress July 4, 1776. And please as I read this, I promise I love America! I am not speaking against our country!
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Some of the writers of this document held slaves. They were the masters and their slaves were their slaves. This is a form of inequality. Some of these men approved of a certain form of slavery namely of African peoples. They made a distinction and discrimination among people based on skin color. And they wrote laws to keep and promote such slavery. I am quite certain that the “just powers” to govern the slaves in their slavery did not come from the slave’s consent.
God is against this kind of discrimination. I bring this up to illustrate that there are various forms of inequality among people. Some are sinful such as this slavery example. God prohibits us to engage in these kinds of discriminations as Christians.
But then there are also non-sinful inequalities among people. Think of this.
There are various gifts, stations, callings and so on wherein men and women differ greatly. Some are strong, some are weak, some have physical skills, some have intellectual skills, some are rich, some are poor, etc. And this is not sin per se. We are not angry that the brain surgeon has a higher position and is more well paid than the teenager that scoops ice-cream for their part time job.
Also, in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 God likens the Church to the Body of Christ and God makes us different members of the same Body. But individually we are different. We have different gifts and different roles. In roles there are superiors, inferiors, and equals. (WLC 124-131)
James is not arguing that we are not to acknowledge these non-sinful differences in church among Believers. That would be silly to pretend we are all the same when we are not. If there is a man in the church that is a skilled carpenter versus another church member that has never held a hammer, then you make a proper discrimination among Believers if you need a carpenter.
And I would argue this would apply to our treatment of non-Christians. It is legitimate to recognize non-sinful differences among non-Christians. There is an Indian woman, presumably a Hindu, she calls herself the “human computer”. She can do mathematical problems faster than a computer. It is legitimate for me to acknowledge she is my superior in math and give her the due deference! 😊
Divinely considered equality among men.
But then there is another sense in which all men are created equal. All men have been created in the likeness and the image of God. (Gen.1:27, WCF 4.2)
This means that God created Adam and Eve with true knowledge of God and true holiness and righteousness before God. All human beings have a body and a soul. We are all responsible religious creatures before God.
And after the Fall of Adam now all people that descend from him via ordinary generation, we are all equally fallen and estranged from God. (Rom.3:9-18) And we all will one day die and give an account of ourselves to God. (Heb.9:27-28, Rom.14:12)
Think of the earthly distinction in view in our passage, a difference between the rich and the poor. The Bible says that God created them both. (Prov.22:2) And that they have this one great similarity, they both with lay their body in the ground and present their souls before God. (Exod.30:15, Ps.49:2)
Fallen man does not rightly respond.
All of these equalities among all people ought to make us more sympathetic and loving towards our fellow man. But unregenerate man is at war with God and is in a fallen spiritual estate. Therefore, fallen man does not rightly consider these things. (Rom.8:7, I Cor.2:10-16, 2 Cor.4:4)
Restored man can rightly respond.
But James is not addressing fallen Man. James is writing to Believers in Jesus. We have eyes to see and ears to hear. We can reason rightly looking at God’s book of Providence and God’s book of Redemption.
Now let’s look the particulars of our passage.
Do not show sinful discrimination against fellow Believers.
All Christians are family.
James 2:1. My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.
James uses this “my brothers” regularly throughout the epistle. (Jas.1:2, 2:1, 2:14, 3:1) He does this to impress upon Christians that we have a true spiritual union and fellowship with other Believers. And because of this common bond in Christ, we have certain obligations to one another in the household of faith. (WCF 25.2, 26.1-2, I Jn.3:1-2, Eph.2:19-22, Gal.6:10)
How did we become members of God’s household? (Jn.1:10-13) Was it because we are rich or powerful or any good thing in us? No. It is all by God’s grace given to us in Christ. God gifted us with being members of His family. How then can we discriminate against anyone else knowing that anything good we possess is a gift of God to us? (I Cor.4:7, Rom.4:1-9, I Cor.1:26-31)
Now if we truly considered other Believers in Jesus as our true family then we would love them. And if we loved them, we would not sinfully discriminate against them. Consider the example in our passage. Let’s say, you are wealthy. And you have a brother or sister that is materially poor. Do you not still love them? Don’t you study ways to help them? Wouldn’t it grieve you if they thought you thought less of them because they are poor?
Like that. Treat your fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus. God is their Father and your Father. Christ Jesus is their older Brother and your older Brother. We are family. (Jn.13:34)
All Christians have the same faith.
Next, James specifically reminds them of their common faith in Jesus Christ.
James 2:1. My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.
All Christians by nature are utter moral paupers before God.
By reminding them (and us) of faith in Jesus Christ, James by inference reminds us of our need of Savior Jesus. (Gal.2:20, Eph.3:12, Phil.3:9, I Tim.3:16)
So negatively considered, left to ourselves before God we all are hopeless and wretched sinners. Think of that. The richest unbeliever and the poorest unbeliever are equally in their fallen estate. They are equally under the wrath and curse of God for their sin. The same is true for every other human distinction. Currently in our country the political climate is boiling. Think of this. The most flaming unbelieving democrat and the most flaming unbelieving republican are in the exact same moral condition before God. They are under His wrath. And as different as their earthly differences may be, if they die apart from Christ, they will spend eternity together.
Man looks at the outward. God looks at the heart. If the heart loves Christ all is well.
Again, in reference to the example in our passage, left to ourselves we are all spiritually poor people dressed in filthy rags. (Isa.64:6, Eph.2;1-3, Lk.15:11-32)
All Christians by grace glory only in the Lord.
Positively considered, all Christians have saving faith in the same Christ. For every Believer Jesus is our only hope in life and death. For every Believer Jesus is everything to us. If we live, we want to serve Jesus. When we die we want to see Jesus. How we think, feel, speak, and act is to honor Jesus. (Phil.1:18-29)
The apostle Paul sums up the heart of every Believer this way.
Galatians 2:20. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
Listen to what the apostle Paul writes to the Ephesian Believers.
Ephesians 4:3. being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
James refers to the glory of Jesus. This is an inferred reference to the deity of Christ.
We remember in the OT it was the cloud of shekinah glory that was a theophany, a visible manifestation of the invisible God, that led the children of Israel around the desert for forty years. (Exod.13:21) And it was the glory of the LORD that filled the tabernacle and the temple when he visited His people. (Exod.40:34) Stephen refers to God that led Israel in the OT as the God of glory. (Acts 7:2)
The NT refers to Jesus Christ as the Lord of Glory, God come in the Flesh. (I Cor.2:8)
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
We see why James describes God this way. He wants us to think God in Christ is glorious and precious. And the more we adore and value God the less enamored we will be with what Natural Man values. Namely, riches and power and so on. You see the idea? Stop looking at Man! Look at Christ. Stop evaluating Man like an unbeliever. Stop looking at the outward. Evaluate Man like God. Consider the heart, the inward disposition, the faith. (I Sam.16:7, I Jn.2:15-17, I Cor.2:13-15)
I John 2:15. Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts;
Do not show sinful discrimination against fellow Believers in worship.
Favoritism in church and in corporate worship is wrong.
James now refers to a particular venue in which it is especially sinful to show sinful discrimination. And that is in the church and also in the corporate worship of God. (see and study WLC 151)
James actually used a word for the church assembled for worship that is “synagogue”. The word church means those called out. Called out from sin. And the word synagogue means those gathered together. Believers are called out of sin to Christ. And all Believers we are gathered together in Christ as one flock under one Shepherd.
Here is the American Standard Version of 1901.
James 2:2 For if there come into your synagogue a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, and there come in also a poor man in vile clothing;
Later James will use the specific word for church, ekklesia.
James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
The NT Church appears to have been open to all people. (I Cor.14:22-26) That is to say, all people of all distinctions could come into the corporate assembly on the Lord’s Day. They could hear the word of God. Amen! As it should be.
But then the problem began that once into the assembly there appears to be some segregated seating in the church. The good section for the rich Believers. The bad section for the poor Believers. How awful. How displeasing to Jesus.
As an aside the NT does prohibit unbelievers from partaking of the Lord’s Supper. (I Cor.10:16-22, I Cor.11:22-34, Lev.10:1-11)
The Believers look at the external clothes and carriage of the two different classes of men. They respect the rich man. They despise the poor man.
We would do well to remember Christ’s teaching on the rich man and Lazarus. (Lk.16:19)
The idea is Christians are not to make a distinction in treatment that God does not make.
Let me offer a gentle criticism of my beloved English Puritans of the 1600’s. They were men of their times. Even as we are men of our times.
Listen to these two Puritans arguing for a measure of favoritism in the church. Something that I believe God tells James to tell us He condemns.
Thomas Manton. He says that it is not necessarily wrong or evil to rise in the presence of a rich man or a man or power or prestige (in the church). He says, if this were a complete prohibition from showing any deference then there would be no basis for government or mastership. (Manton, On James, p.181)
Matthew Henry. He says this situation only has to do when the church courts meet to administer justice between believers. He does not necessarily apply this to the assembly for corporate worship. He says there certainly may be appointed different places of persons according to their rank and circumstances without sin. (Commentary on the Bible, Vol.6, p.787)
I think Manton and Henry are wrong on this. God forbids favoring the rich over the poor in His church.
Proper respect – Biblical obedience.
But let’s say a few words on giving proper respect to others. God does require us to treat certain people, even in the church with more respect. We think of the aged. We think of our parents, and so on. (WLC 127)
Leviticus 19:32. You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD.
Improper deference – evil motives.
James is teaching against the practice sinful deference. Christ taught the same thing when he taught against the practices of the Pharisees.
Matthew 23:5. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Lk.11:43, Lk.20:46, Mk.12:38-44)
Now it is somewhat popular in certain circles for the poor to despise the rich. When Christians do this, they imbibe a kind of Marxist ideology. We are not allowed reverse sinful discrimination either. Listen to God’s word.
Job 34:12 Surely, God will not act wickedly, And the Almighty will not pervert justice.
Job 34:19 Who shows no partiality to princes Nor regards the rich above the poor, For they all are the work of His hands?
Leviticus 19:15 You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.
Deuteronomy 1:17 ‘You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.
Miscellaneous thoughts on the poor.
Let’s conclude by saying a few more things about the poor.
James 2:5. Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
Christ Himself was poor according to the flesh. (Phil.2:1-11)
2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is given to the spiritually poor.
(LXX) Isaiah 61:1. The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. (Lk.4:18-19)
Christ refers to His blessed disciples as the poor. (Mt.5:3, Lk.6:19-20)
God tells us that He has many of His elect one from the ranks of the materially poor.
(WCF 3.5, Dt.7:6-9) Not many of the early Believers came from the ranks of the rich and powerful. (I Cor.1:26-31)
In fact, Jesus says it is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle. (Mk.10:25)
James wants these Christians that are deferring to the materially rich to remember what class of people are responsible for persecuting them. The rich were dragging the poor Christians into court. Poor people do not tend to drag people into court. They do not have the financial means to financially persecute other people. In this way, the Christians were acting against their own interests. They are elevating the very people that were most responsible for harming them.
Regularly God directs the poor and the needy to look to Him for their protection and provision. And God promises to protect and to provide for the needy and the weak.
Psalm 9:18 For the needy will not always be forgotten, Nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever. (Ps.12:5, Prov.22:22-23)
God is teaching His children to value spiritual riches above earthly and material riches. (Mt.6:19-21, Lk.12:16-21)
God wants us to value our heavenly kingdom above the earthly kingdom. (Mt.19:16-30, Mk.10:17-25, Lk.18:18-30, Rev.1:6, Mt.25:34-41)
God wants us to live like a loving spiritual family.
God wants us to walk by faith and not by sight.
- List various non-sinful differences and even inequalities among people and also among Christians in the church? Think. Is everyone healthy? Wealthy? Intelligent? Does everyone perform the same task in life? In the church? (Gen.4:21-22, Rom.12:3-8, I Cor.12:1-31, Eph.5:33, Eph.6:1-7, Rom.13:1-8, I Cor.7:21-23, Eph.4:11, Rev.5:9, Acts 17:26)
- What are some sinful distinctions whereby people value one person and devalue another person? What makes us sinfully value one person and sinfully devalue another person? Why do we? (James 2:1-7, Num.12:1, I Cor.1:12, I Cor.3:4-9, Gal.2:11-13, I Sam.16:7, I Tim.5:21, Exod.22:21, Jn.7:24)
- What are some ways all human beings are the same? Before the Fall of Adam? After the fall of Adam? Why should these truths make us more loving, sympathetic, and kind to all people no matter their distinctives? Why don’t they? 😊 (Gen.1:27, WCF 4.2, Rom.3:9-18, Heb.9:27-28, Rom.14:12, Prov.22:2, Exod.30:15, Ps.49:2)
- How do we become members of God’s household, of His family? How or why are fellow Christians our brothers or sisters? In what way are they our family? What lessons do we learn by this? Why should this help us not show favoritism in the church? (Jn.1:10-13, Gal.3:26, Jn.3:16, Rom.8:11-16, Jas.1:2, 2:1, 2:14, 3:1, WCF 25.2, 26.1-2, I Jn.3:1-2, Eph.2:19-22, Gal.6:10, I Cor.4:7, Rom.4:1-9, I Cor.1:26-31, Jn.13:34)
- What kind of people need a Savior? What spiritual family did all Christians belong to before they were converted to Christ? What was the spiritual nature of every Christian before they were converted? How should these truths prevent us from showing sinful favoritism in the church to any persons or class of persons that we think are superior and so we favor them? Why should these truths prevent us from looking down on others? (Rom.3:9-18, Eph.2:1-3, I Cor.6:9-11, Jn.3:36, Jn.8:44-45, Eph.3:12, Phil.3:9, I Tim.3:16, Isa.64:6, Eph.2:1-3, Lk.15:11-32)
- What are some reasons that committing the sin of valuing one Believer and devaluing another Believing in the church and in corporate worship aggravates our sins? Our sins against God? And our sins against Man? Hint. Who is doing the sinning? Who is being sinned against? What is the occasion of the sin? What is the nature of the sin? For example, why is the sin of eating too much ice cream when your wife is not around as sinful to God as showing sinful favoritism in the church or in worship? (WLC 151, James 2:1-7, Ps.133:1-3, I Chron.16:23-31, Jer.20:13, Exod.20:2-6, Jn.4:21-24, Ps.99:1-9, Dt.29:18, Rom.12:1-2, Isa.29:13, Mt.15:8, Mt.23:27-28, Isa.58:1-9, I Cor.13:1-3, Mt.22:37-40)
- What are some practical ramifications for valuing one Believer and devaluing another Believer? Think along the lines of a parent favoring one child over another child? What happens then parent to child? Child to parent? Child to fellow child? (Jas.2:1-9, Gen.25:27-34, Gen.27:1-46, Gen.37:1-36, Mk.3:25)
- What are some sinful reasons why people value rich people and discriminate against poor people even in the church? How does this go contrary to Christ? To the Gospel of Christ? To the people of Christ? How does God bless the poor? (Jas.2:5-7, Phil.2:1-11, 2 Cor.8:9, Isa.61:1, Lk.4:18-19, Mt.5:3, Lk.6:19-20, I Cor.1:26-31)
- Why is it hard for the materially rich to enter heaven? What is the deceitfulness of wealth? Why were the rich people dragging the poorer Christians into court and not the poorer abusing the richer? (Mk.10:24-25, James 2:1-7, Ps.73:1-28, I Tim.6:17-19, Prov.11:28, Job 31:24, Jer.48:7, Ps.52:7, Lk.12:13-31, Mk.4:19-21)
- Interact with this saying from J.C. Ryle. We ought not to envy the rich, instead we ought to pity them and pray for them.