September 9, 2012

Judging the Book By Its Cover, Part I: James 2:1-7

In the February 1979 issue of Our Daily Bread, H.G. Bosch founder & editor of the magazine wrote the following:

"Mahatma Gandhi, once said that during his student days, he considered becoming a Christian. Deeply touched by the reading of the Gospels, he seriously considered becoming a convert. It seemed to him that Christianity offered a solution to the caste system that plagued the people of India."

[I should note:  Caste system are social divisions based on wealth & status... it treats the poor horribly]

Bosch continues…

"One Sunday, Gandhi went to a local church. He had decided to see the pastor and ask for instruction on the way of salvation and other Christian doctrines. But when he entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused to give him a seat. They told him, "Go and worship among your own people!" He left and never went back. Gandhi later said “If Christians have caste system also...I might as well remain a Hindu”

So he did. He stayed a nation of 1 billion people. We can only imagine what would've happen to India had Gandhi turned Christian. But he didn't! Why do I read this? Our passage is about the very same type of treatment but it's Christian-to-Christian not Christian-to-Hindu. This post will show favoritism & special treatment based on wealth or status. From Gandhi's story we see how damaging this behavior can be. We see  that preferential treatment is a sin of prejudice & injustice...and we'll see just how unChrist-like & unChristian this behavior really is.

James 2:1-13 "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. 

So what've we learned by reading James 1? So far in James we've been through a series of tests. They're to see where believers stand in relation to God. They're to see where believers stand in relation to one another. The 1st test  is how we react to trials in James 1:1-12. The 2nd test is how we react to temptations James 1:13-18. The 3rd test is how we react to the Scripture (doers of the word) in James 1:19-27. This is the 4th test: To see if we’re impartial to others-especially in the Church. By seeing how we stand in relation to believers we see where we stand in relation to Jesus Christ both relationally and in salvation.

Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”

As we'll move into James 2 we'll begin to see that God is impartial. We’ll see there’s no injustice in God.When God deals with man there is no playing favorites. There are either those being saved or those that are dying in their sins. Those being saved in Christ are all viewed as equal in Christ

Galatians 2:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The first half of James 2:1-13 is verse 1-7 and it shows the disunity caused by ungodly behavior and will be the remainder of this post. The second half is verse 8-13 and shows how a Christian’s behavior matches up with the Law of the Old Testament will be the conclusion in my next post. It is a law that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, therefore, it shows how a believers behavior matches up to Jesus

Distinctions Based on Wealth or on Outward Appearances (v. 1-7)

This example concerns two men—one appears rich, the other poor. Both attend an assembly or a "synagogue". One man wears gold rings and fine clothing, one is dressed shabby. In the Greek it says χρυσοδακτύλιος /chrusodaktulios or  "goldfinger". The man was wearing a gold ring or rings. Most likely signet rings which conveyed an air of prestige or authority since signet rings were used to seal legal or official documents. Please note James says "brothers" and talks to the entire assembly.The Greek “ἀδελφοί / adelphoi” in this context ...means brothers and sisters. So by saying Brothers/sisters he makes himself equal to them all, not above.

This passage also seems to imply the rich man was treated preferentially and no one rebukes this behavior so silence or apathy advocates sinful behavior.  In so doing they all treated the poor man with contempt and disrespect. The actions in this synagogue are based solely on appearances. They’ve judged people from a distance w/o even knowing them. Isn’t this just like man to do this? To judge by the outward appearance?

Quite simply: It is called Favoritism. Do we do our church? In public? When we watch TV? Do we give special honor to those that drive nice cars? Speak eloquently? Dress nice? Look nice? Smell nice? Do we come in on a Sunday…when we see certain people and think, "don't make eye contact!"

If the point of James is to see where we stand in relation to God or to see if we indeed have The Holy Spirit in us, therefore Salvation. So...if we prefer certain people well and others with distain we’ve violate basic biblical principle such as treating your neighbor as yourself . Treating a neighbor preferentially creates disunity in the body. Anything that is not of unity is not of the Spirit. If it’s not of the Spirit it can’t possibly be of Christ, can it? Therefore the behavior can hardly be considered Christian.

Favoritism is just the opposite of what God does.
Favoritism is just the opposite of what Scripture tells us to do.

James even states this in verse 5. “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?”

We see this same concept in 1 Samuel 16 when the Lord Picks David to be his anointed:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. [referring to Saul] The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Corinthians 1:27-29 states:

 “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are…

The question is why?

1 Corinthians 1:29 “…so that no one may boast before him [God]. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

It’s here we see the first key to unraveling James 2.

It is solely through Jesus Christ and our trust in His work on the Cross that we gain credence in the eyes of God. Quite simply, God is no respecter of men (He’s not partial) for all men are sinful (Romans 3). It is only through Jesus Christ that we are even reconciled to God. We’ll solely be judged on the condition of souls as matched against Scripture…and the perfectness of Jesus Christ. The value of a person from God’s view is therefore based on the value of their heart or soul. God views believers through the blood-stained vision.

So let’s look at our two men again. One is well-dressed and another in unkempt and poor. The attitude of favoritism towards the nicely dressed man and it is based on outward, superficial appearances. What's our salvation based on? Salvation is based on...all people who will what will what according to John 3:16…“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes…”

Why would outward appearances play into our lives? They shouldn’t! We are to be like Jesus! Jesus who is a member a three person Trinity. A Trinity, 3 different persons, 1 Being. One God, One Being, Equal! Therefore…impartial to one another! Just as believers should be: Impartial to one another. So when we are impartial as a unified body what are we imitating? Not only Jesus but also the Godhead.

Be holy for I am holy!

We were created in God’s image (Imago Dei). We are to be like Jesus. By being impartial we form fellowship! Fellowship of what? A Body! Who’s body?  Jesus Christ’s!

So if we treat a believer with partiality or distain what've we done? Matthew 25:45 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.

We’ve treated them the same way we treated Christ when he was crucified. How do I know that? Isaiah 53 foretold of it...

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

What made this sin even more obnoxious in verses 6 & 7…

Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court, are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?”

These believers were literally showing favoritism towards well-to-do’s who had dragged them into the courts because of their faith. By doing this these gaudy people literally blasphemed the honorable name by which they were called…these people were Christians… Jesus' holy name: Christ. Christians were elevating people that were persecuting them and defaming Jesus Christ! Do we see this today? Should we? Honoring people due to their status, who tread on Christ's holy name? Do we elevate politicians or athletes, actors or celebrities?

Let me ask this: If God views all men in relation to Jesus, shouldn't we also? Why would we judge others based on outward appearance? Why put emphasis on something so temporary? James 4:14 even tells us that, “You are but a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”. Why honor that which is the perishing and passing away by the minute? Why not give honor to something God does value - a human soul and the person themselves.

I also need to ask this: If we’ve caused disunity in the body due to favoritism, can this truly be of the Holy Spirit? A Spirit is of unity and order. 1 Corinthians 14:33~For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints.

This therefore tells us that partiality is a siren that screams of untransformed life. When we judge other's outward appearances we’ve simultaneously judged ourselves as inwardly for all to see. Partiality shows either an absence of the Holy Spirit or willful suppression of Him because of sin

Luke 6:45 says: The good man brings good things, out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things, out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart ...his mouth speaks.

By someone saying “sit here" or "sit there" they will bring judgment on themselves. Do we mentally tell people: "Sit here" or "sit there"? Do we pass judgment on people like this?

I do this sometimes! For this I’m ashamed. I don’t mean to
…but that is my sinful fallen nature. I loathe it and ask forgiveness for it too

So did we pass this new test from James? Only you and Christ can know this for sure.

[Part II coming soon...]

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