The second chapter of James speaks to my heart on so many levels. In a world where wealth, privilege and popularity often trump the things that really matter, it is good to be reminded that this is not the case in God’s economy. God sees us. Not what we have. Not what others think of us. Not how well known we are or who others believe us to be.
Not the size or shape of our bodies, the look of our face, the color of our skin or man-made stereotypes and assumptions. He sees our true selves and into the depths of our hearts. He sees it all – the good, the bad and the ugly, and still loves us just the same! (1 Samuel 16:7 “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.”) God wants us to make the effort to see others for who they are as well. So often we are blinded by qualities that seem to matter in this world, but when we live with our hearts submitted to the Holy Spirit, it is easier to look past the exterior and see the true qualities of others created in God’s image. And when we do this, we can no longer give preference to certain types of people.
James 2:1-4 : “My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? For example, suppose someone come into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor” – well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgements are guided by evil motives?”
It’s human nature. I have seen it so many times. In schools, in the workplace and even in the church. People are given special privilege because of money, popularity, or some other advantage that they have. I think it is usually subconscious, and most of us have probably been guilty of this at some point in our lives. But this is something that we all need to beware of. It is not okay. I have been on the other end of it too. I have known the sting of being passed over or ignored. Of not being in the cliche, or just not quite fitting in. I never want to make anyone else feel that way. The mindset of favoring the wealthy and popular, or people who are “like us” divides the Kingdom and interferes with us all working in unity to bring others to Christ.
We all have value and we all have a part to play in the plan God has in place for this particular time in history. We don’t have time for bias. We need to get over racism too. Every person has a vital role and to overlook this is to interfere with God’s plan. Sometimes we are just more comfortable with others who we perceive to be “like us”. But sometimes God calls us out of our comfort zone to help us grow and to discover that beautiful friendships can grow when we make an effort to get to know and appreciate others who are different from ourselves. God has opened my eyes to this truth over the years and has allowed me to develop some amazing relationships with people of different races, cultures and even some people who don’t even speak the same language as I do. That’s how God works! He can take people with little in common…not even language sometimes…and put them together to work as a team for His Glory! When this happens, you don’t have to wonder “how?” You just know it was God!
We can learn a lot from the poor. James 2:5 says:”Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?” Verses 6-7 go on to say: “But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?”
I am more inclined to want to honor the poor. I have seen people in extreme poverty who choose joy. Their homes are, at best, block buildings, and for some, only tar paper and tin shacks with dirt floors. Their joy doesn’t come from possessions. They wash their clothes by hand and cook in outdoor kitchens without the benefit of modern appliances. In a land of intense heat, they have no air conditioning. And yet, they are content with what they have and put their trust in God to meet their needs. Joy is clearly seen in their faces.
Oh, my heart. When I start to complain in the midst of all my huge blessings, I just need to stop and take my cues from the poor who are so rich in faith. They understand that they are dependent on God for everything. They never assume that they are self-sufficient. They know something that many of us miss. We would be nothing and we would have nothing apart from the mercy and riches of God’s grace! They are truly, deeply grateful to Him for even the little things. I want to be more like them. Wealth doesn’t count for anything unless we use it for His glory and to build His Kingdom.
Verses 8-13 of the second chapter of James remind us of the importance of loving our neighbor and not playing favorites. James 2:8-13 “Yes, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law. So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” We all slip. We all break the God’s laws. Most of us have been unkind or judgmental or exclusive at some point. But thankfully, we are covered by His Grace, and He forgives when we ask. Loving our neighbor is so important. Not just the neighbor that we like a lot. Not only the neighbor we have a lot in common with. Not just our near neighbors. Instead, we have to be careful to love our neighbors all around the globe, in whatever ways God has taught us or in the ways that He puts on our hearts. If a drug dealer just released from prison shows up across the aisle from you at church next Sunday, you have to show him love. You don’t have to agree with what he did. But if you shun him, and don’t “love your neighbor” in this circumstance, you will be as guilty as he is of breaking the law. We all sin. We all fall short. But if we expect mercy from The Father, we must show mercy to our neighbor. Every single neighbor. God gives us sense enough to exercise caution with some of our neighbors, but whenever possible, we need to go the extra mile to make others feel valued and loved.
Faith without good deeds is dead. James 2:14-26 “What good is it, dear brother and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now some may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”
Doing good comes naturally when our hearts are filled with gratitude to a loving God who sent His son Jesus to die in our place on a cruel cross. We cannot earn salvation. It is a free gift, with no action apart from accepting the gift required. But once we are saved, we are automatically drawn to good deeds by the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
James 2:19-“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works; and the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
God works in mysterious ways. We don’t always know what He is up to. But when He calls us to action, we have to be willing to step up. Even when it doesn’t make sense to us. It made no sense to Abraham when God asked him to kill the child who was promised to him; the one from whom God had said He would build a mighty nation and cause Abraham’s descendants to be more numerous than the stars. But Abraham was obedient. He showed his faith by his action. And God provided.
Rahab showed compassion to the Israelite spied who were checking out the Promised Land. She saved them and helped them to make their escape, and because of her faith, she became the ancestor of King David and eventually of Jesus Christ. God knows what He is doing. Sometimes what He asks us to do is simple and makes perfect sense. Other times, it’s more complicated and may make no sense at all. All that He requires is that we put our faith in Him and show it through our actions.
When we see a need, we ought to try to meet it. We should help meet physical needs of the people whose paths we cross so that we can have the opportunity to meet spiritual needs as well and just maybe lead someone to the Lord. We should pray for discernment. We don’t want to enable people to live unproductive or destructive lifestyles. But as Christians we should be first in line to try and meet true needs. You never know how much even a little thing might matter in light of eternity.
Let’s get over our biases, exercise our faith and get busy with doing good!