From Partiality to Mercy: Part 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 afine 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?

8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:5-13)

Because we looked at so many verses last time I said we would have a part two of looking at James 2:5-13. And here we are. As we looked at last time, I shared with you concerning how we move individually and as a local body of Christ from partiality to mercy. And I said that partiality is known by many names in our country. Some of the more familiar ones are racism, bigotry, classism, and sexism. But all these terms describe what the Bible calls partiality or personal favoritism. So today we are going to look a little closer at some of the key elements in both partiality and mercy. Hopefully today the Word of God will help us in our own journey from partiality to mercy.

When I say “our” journey, I want us all to be clear that this message is not for the person next to you or for someone you might think of as having a problem with partiality. No, this message is for you and it is for me. We live in a fallen world that feeds our flesh by teaching and promoting that we are better than them, no matter who “we” are and no matter who the “them” is referring to. None of us has escaped the sinful thinking that in some way we and our group are superior or of greater value. And if someone is outside of our group, their value in our eyes is somehow diminished. And in seeing them as less valuable we treat them as less valuable, no matter how small our prejudice may seem to be in our own eyes. It effects how we treat the other. Our group might be our family or neighborhood or state or country. Our group might be our race or our sex. It comes down to a matter of pride. Pride in ourselves and pride in our group.

The second major issue that James addresses in the verses we will look at relating to partiality or favoritism is our sinful tendency toward selfishness. We tend to favor those who we believe can help us in some way and we tend to treat not as well those who we feel cannot help us and may actually drain our resources or cause us harm. Those other people we tend not to treat so well.

For example, over the ten years I have lived in Texas I have talked to several believers from Texas who have said, “I wish people from California would stop moving here.” So these believers saw themselves as part of the group “Texans” and they saw people from the group called “Californians” as less than suitable to live in their state of Texas. So they were making a value judgment about the people from California that they have never met, but that they somehow saw as people not worthy of moving to the great state of Texas. When I told them I had moved here from California, they were gracious enough not to ask me to move back. These conversations to me were quite amusing, but the believers I talked to were quite serious. This seems like a small thing, but it points out how quick we can begin to place people in the undesirable, other category.

On the side of mercy James points out that as believers we have been shown great mercy by God and we should live in a way that shows gratitude for the great gift of mercy we have been shown. And that we should live in a way that reflects the love and character of Christ. 

As we have already looked at in verses 1-4 of chapter 2, James instructed us not to hold our faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. Because Jesus, who we say we trust and love as Lord and Savior, does not show personal favoritism, and our trust and love for Him is not compatible with us holding or having an attitude of personal favoritism.

James goes on to give a hypothetical situation that points out how even in a church service we can show partiality. In his example it was a preference for the rich over the poor. But there are many ways in which we can sinfully value or devalue a person that gets played out in the way we treat them. In James’ example, giving the rich man special attention and a preferred place to sit while disregarding the poor man and giving him an undesirable place to sit, this was a result of what they thought about each man. James says that when we have an attitude of personal favoritism in the church we create divisions among ourselves and our motives are evil. 

Today, the passage we come to again starts with James’ loving call for us to listen closely, to pay attention to what he is about to say because it is extremely important! And he also wanted those who would receive his letter to be reminded again of his great love and affection for them because much of what he has to say to them and to us would be hard to hear. He also wants his readers to understand that he associates himself in all their struggles, so he continually calls them brothers. He says to them….

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? (James 2:5-7)

As we said last time, James points out that God has chosen the poor to be saved and He counts them among his sons and daughters, just as he does the wealthy. The Lord has chosen for Himself men of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and the poor have not been left out in any way. James also points out that their favoring the rich in order to get something from them was misguided and ineffective. The very people they were trying to impress were mistreating them and abusing the name of Jesus Christ, which is the fair name by which we have been called.

James is using the example of favoritism toward the rich and against the poor, but his example can apply to any reason we might look down on someone, or some group, or try to impress someone else. But why do we do either? The Bible tells us clearly that it is two predominant sins which drive this behavior: pride and selfishness. 

When the Bible talks about pride as a sin it refers to our view of self-importance, a self-exaltation, a trust in our own achievements and abilities. Here is how the Lord describes this sin regarding the people of Moab…

We have heard of the pride of Moab–he is very proud–Of his haughtiness, his pride, his arrogance and his self-exaltation. (Jeremiah 48:29)

Because of our flesh we can be no different then the people of Moab, full of ourselves. So that we can see others as less important, less valuable than we are. And when we are selfish, we see ourselves as the most important person on earth. Our needs, our wants are of utmost importance. We look at other people as either having some benefit or advantage to us in getting what we want or we see other people as having no benefit to us, and we may even see them as a threat to the things we want, a threat to our resources.

These two sins, pride and selfishness, cause us to see some people as worth trying to impress, like the wealthy man in James’ example, and other people we can mistreat like the poor man in James’ example, because we see them from a proud perspective as less important than we are, and from a selfish perspective we see them as in no way being able to add value to our lives, so we see them as having no use or usefulness to us. As a result of our pride and selfishness we are constantly evaluating individuals and whole groups of people based on our own biases which promote our own perceived self-interest.

Let’s think about some ways this can play itself out in our lives. When we say our nation is the best nation on earth, that implies that every other nation is less than we are. That kind of thinking has implications on how we treat those who come here from other countries, whether they come to visit or to live. It has implications on how we act when we go to other countries. It has implications on our immigration policy and our views on securing the borders and whether as believers we support those policies or not. If pride, selfishness, and partiality was not such a problem in determining how we treat strangers and the poor, Scripture would not have to repeatedly command us to treat them well. If we did not have the tendency to mistreat them, the Lord would not have to command us to treat them well over and over. 

33 When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19)

Why did the Lord have to give these instructions to His people? Because our tendency is to not treat them well, and to do them wrong, and not to love them. 

One of the biggest problems with the sin of pride and the sin of selfishness is that like most sin, it is far easier to see it in other people than it is to see it in ourselves. And if we never see it in ourselves, we will never address it in our own lives. We must face it in ourselves because it hinders the work the Lord has called us to do. He has called us to love one another.

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

So to those inside the church, we must love without partiality. And Christ has called us to be His hands and His feet, He has called us to be His ambassadors to the world that needs to be saved by Him. We are to represent Him well, not only by speaking His Word to others but by showing them the person of Christ, how He loves and forgives, How He is merciful and gracious, how He is humble, how He is faithful and true, how He does not show personal favoritism. So to those in the world we are to take Christ to them, just as He has revealed Himself to us.

We know from Scripture that Jesus purchased with His own blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9, 7:9). So in the family of God there must not even be the slightest hint of division based on what a brother or sister has or does not have, what they look like or where they come from. If Christ has shed His own blood to save them and to save us, who are we to treat anyone who belongs to Christ as anything less than a brother or sister? And as we treat each other as real brothers and sisters we will be the blessing to one another that God intends us to be, and our love for one another will confirm to the world that we really do belong to Christ and we are not counterfeits, we are not phonies.

If we do not deal with our pride, selfishness, and partiality then we will not be good ambassadors for Christ. We will not represent Him well and we will miss sharing the gospel with many of the people Christ wants us to share it with. Because we have decided we do not want to deal with those people, whoever the “those people” are, whether individuals or groups. If we do not deal with the pride and selfishness that leads to partiality, we will not love many of the people Christ wants us to love. And that’s inside and outside of the church.

For an example of partiality, let’s look at an encounter Jesus had with a crowd and two blind men in Matthew 20…

30 And two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd sternly told them to be quiet, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” 32 And Jesus stopped and called them, and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 33 They said to Him, “Lord, we want our eyes to be opened.” 34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him. (Matthew 20:30-34)

Here in this encounter the pleas of the two bind men were not only ignored by the crowed, but their pleas were met with hostile opposition, the crowd sternly telling the blind men to be quiet. This is the crowd who was interested in following Jesus. Whether they were following Him because they were looking for food or healing or they wanted to be saved and become true disciples, whatever the reason, they are following Jesus. They are following the Savior, the giver of life, the compassionate and merciful one. If any crowd should have had compassion on these men it should have been this crowd. But no one in the crowd had any compassion, no one had any mercy for the two blind men. Instead of seeing the great need that these men had, the crowd saw the two men as being beneath them, less than them, and needing to be silenced and not helped. The crowd saw the two blind men as not worthy of interrupting their encounter with Jesus. The crowd wanted to get what they wanted from Jesus and these blind men were getting in the way of that. We see it – selfishness, pride, partiality. Can we be like the people in this crowed? Following Jesus, but in our pride, selfishness, and partiality, overlooking the very people He wants us to minister to? But Jesus heard the cry of these two blind men and He had compassion on them and healed them. The very people that were sternly telling the two blind mem to be quiet had to be moved out of the way so the men could come to Jesus when He called them. 

Last week Lyndon talked about God using us as His instruments in order to do His work through us. What a wonderful picture that is, to be used as an instrument of Christ. But is that how we are living our lives as believers, being used by Christ as His instrument to minister to all those around us? I wonder? I hope we are sometimes, but always? I doubt it. Because of our pride, selfishness, and partiality are we often an obstacle to the work that Christ wants to do in the lives of those around us? We get to make that choice each day, with every person we interact with. Will we be an instrument of Christ or will we be an obstacle to the work of Christ? Are we going to be Christ’s instruments to be used to reach all of the people He wants to through us?

While you think about that, here are some of the people Jesus loved and had compassion on: the Samaritan woman at the well and all the Samaritans from her city that came back with her to see Him (of which the Jews would normally have no dealings with), tax collectors who were despised as traitors, the adulterous woman who would have been stoned but Jesus did not condemn her, but told her to go and sin no more, saving her life. Also the rich young ruler, the poor, Pharisees and other religious leaders, Jews, Gentiles, children, the sick, those who were blind, lame, the deaf. Jesus clearly showed no favoritism then and He shows none now. He wants to use us to show those around us His love. But if we do not deal with our own natural desire to evaluate and categorize individuals and groups of people based on our one bias, then we will at best ignore and at worst trample on the very people Christ wants us to minister to. 

So what is the solution? James tells us in verse 8 we should be fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, which is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If we do that we are doing well, we are doing the work of Christ. It is a simple yet profound law, but the application of it is the hard part. Not only is it hard, it is impossible to love others as yourself without the love of Christ and without the Spirit of God. But since we have the Spirit of God living in us we can love others as we love ourselves. And when the Scripture says others, it means all others, everybody!

We must place ourselves in the shoes of others, asking, “If I were them, how would I want to be treated? What is best for them?” The people in the crowd did not put themselves in the shoes of the blind men. They did not say, “If I were blind, how would I want to be treated?” If they did, they would have helped those men get to Jesus, and not tried to prevent them. Jesus had to have them move out of the way because they were a hindrance to Him ministering to the blind men. Are you and I an active part in the ministry of Christ to all those around us, or are we a hindrance because of our bias and personal preferences? If we show bias and personal preference, James says that we are sinning.

9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. (James 2:9-12) 

As we talked about last time, James is saying in a nutshell that the sin of partiality, like any other sin we commit, it is enough to condemn us before a Holy God. All of us have sinned many times, not just once. And we all stand guilty before a Holy God who is without sin, pure and perfect. And it is not in His just character to allow sin to go unpunished. So all of mankind is in the same position, rich or poor, sick or well, young or old, no matter what language we speak or our skin color, before a Holy God we are all guilty. 

All of the ways we classify and stratify each other make no difference at all to God. Because of the justice of God we would all rightly be lost to an eternity in hell, if not for the love of God. It is the love of God that placed the Son of God on the cross, where the justice of God was satisfied, God Himself paying the price for our sin. Jesus Christ suffered and bled and died so our sins could be forgiven, so we could have a loving relationship with a Holy God and call Him Father. Christ with His own blood suffering, His death has provided a way for us to become sons and daughters of God. That reality never gets old to me, and it should never get old to any of us. We should not take for granted the overwhelming mercy we have been shown. Our sins forgiven, having been given eternal life, having been made sons and daughters of God, having been made citizens of heaven and promised an inheritance, all of this mercy and grace we have been shown.

We should not live this earthly life we have been given jockeying for social position and status, feeling like we are better than some people and not as good as others. With all that God has done for us, we should spend our lives loving the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength, and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

We should focus our lives on the freedom we have to just love others. What I mean by that is God has taken care of our most important need, which is our need to have our sins forgiven. He also takes care of our earthly needs, so we do not have to worry about what we have or don’t have. We can trust God to take care of our every need, spiritual, physical, or emotional, and if there is anything lacking, His grace is sufficient to carry us through, so we are free to just love others. 

So when James says that we are to “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty,” he is telling us to act like the sons and daughters of God that we are! And our character and behavior should reflect God’s character. Our lives should be full of looking out for those that the world has little use for, showing compassion and grace, mercy and love, as true ambassadors of Christ. James points out that we as believers must show mercy. It has to be part of who we are if we belong to Christ.

As believers we are aware that the Spirit of God in us struggles with our flesh. It does battle with all the stereotypes and bigoted thinking that is all around us and may even have been part of how we were raised. But the Spirit of God in us is much stronger then our flesh and the sinful world system in which we live that often influence us. We have true hope that the Spirit of God will prevail in our life. We will as God’s people be merciful and compassionate to all people. 

For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

God’s mercy has triumphed over judgment in our lives in order to save us. And mercy can and will triumph in our lives if we fix our eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith, as Hebrews 12:2 tells us. Christ is at work dealing with the pride and selfishness and partiality that we all suffer from. We need to be partners with Christ in dealing with it in our minds and hearts. 

Are you growing in mercy and becoming less prideful, less selfish, and less partial? If the answer is “No,” or, “I haven’t really thought about it,” I encourage you before God, just you and the Lord, to evaluate what you think of all kinds of people and how you treat them. Do you see other people, all of them, as opportunities to demonstrate the love of God? Do you have a heart of compassion towards those who don’t know Christ? The Russian and the Arab, the Muslim and the Jew, those from Central and South America and those who are African Americans, even those from California and Canada. If you are honest in your evaluation, you will find that there is work to be done in your heart and in your mind. Know that the Word of God and the Spirit of God can and will grow you in overcoming pride and selfishness and favoritism. And God will use you to be His instrument to bless the lives of all the people around you.

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?
8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:5-13)