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James 2:113comment (0)

November 12, 2009

By Michael Wilson

Related Scripture: James 2:113

Bible Studies for Life
Director, Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence, Samford University

James 2:1–13

A church I once served had a world hunger emphasis this time each year. Children and youth collected coins in plastic rice bowls. Adults were challenged to skip lunch one day each week and give the money saved to the world hunger offering.

 One year, we decided to try a simulation. We enlisted someone unknown by our congregation to play the role of an indigent person. This person took the role seriously — he didn’t shave for several days. He wore clothes that most people would have already thrown away. He was a robust man, someone many people would avoid if they met him on the street. About the time most at the fellowship dinner were halfway through their green beans and chicken, he made an entrance. Only three or four people and I knew what was going on. I was curious to see and hear how folks would respond. They didn’t surprise me. Our guest was welcomed by a young couple who saw him come in. They invited him to go through the dinner line with them. Others in line with them asked him to sit at their table. It was several minutes after he arrived that one of the people asked me to meet the man (I thought someone would come get me much sooner.). When time came for prayer meeting to begin, the kitchen crew prepared a “to go” bag for him. Some people figured out the visit was staged, but most were unaware until we “fessed up.” As I recall, the offering was greater that year than in previous years.

A cruel reality persists in our society: We tend to favor people who are like us, who are successful, who present themselves well among others. Our lesson this Sunday offers a challenging call to Christians to think and act without prejudice.

Don’t Show Favoritism (1–4)
Scripture consistently condemns giving special attention to someone because he or she is rich, important, famous or powerful. In the language of the text, favoritism is “to lift up the face,” perhaps referring to giving preferential attention based on appearance. We should avoid showing favoritism because Jesus showed no favoritism. He embraced all people. The word used by James for “meeting” is the word from which synagogue comes. Clearly he was referring to favoritism shown by a congregation gathered for worship.

People wearing gold rings were wealthy, upper level members of the Roman aristocracy. The “fine clothes” of the wealthy person (literally bright, shiny clothes) were in contrast to the poor beggar’s “shabby clothes” (literally filthy clothes). The word “poor” referred to the most desperately poor in Jewish society. James concluded this section with a stinging rhetorical question, “Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become evil-intentioned judges?”

Honor Those in Need (5–7)
“Listen up,” James said to emphasize his point that God has special regard for the poor, who at that time were held in low esteem because of their poverty. Most of the Jewish Christians to whom James wrote were desperately poor and held in even lower regard because of their faith in Christ. By showing favoritism, the church “insulted the poor,” those chosen of God to be heirs to His Kingdom. What matters is not a person’s face but a person’s faith.

Triumph Through Mercy (8–13)
The words “royal law” have deep meaning and may have been chosen by James for a reason. In the text, “royal” comes from the same root word for “kingdom.” Rather than referring to the Torah, James likely had in mind Kingdom law, in which the teachings of Christ are central. A difficult prophetic message of James for our day is found in verses 8–9: “If you really keep the royal law … ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” We are called to be obedient followers of Christ. Prejudice, favoritism, partiality — none of these has a place in the kingdom of God. Kingdom citizens are called to think and act according to a higher standard — the “royal law” of Christ the King.

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