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? 2 For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. 3 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,4 doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? 5 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? 6 But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? 7 Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear? 8 Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. 10 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. 11 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. 12 So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. 13 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.
As we continue in the series “The Litmus Test for Life” we come to chapter 2 and the “Preference Test.” This test reveals not only how we are treating other people but also why we are treating them the way that we are. At first glance it may seem like James is bring this test up out of now where. But if we have been paying attention to his teaching thus far, our hearts will have already been prepared for this passage. Because in verse 18 of chapter 1 James has already taught us that we are God’s prized possession. Which was followed by the command to help the helpless and love the least by caring for orphans and widows in their distress. As children of God we too need to start prizing people instead of power, position and possessions. Like Jesus we must lead with love, in our words, our works and our walk.
Here James reminds his readers that you can’t glorify God and people at the same time. As a Christian we need to glorify Christ not people and their status. And by the way people includes yourself. When we glory in the status of people, we forget how far we all fall short of the glory of God. The only thing any of us have a right to glory in is the righteousness of Christ. That righteousness which through grace and mercy, God credits to us when He saves us. When we lose sight of God’s grace, we will cease treating others like treasure. Instead of worshipping Jesus we end up worshipping people for their wealth or what they can do for us. Today James calls each of us individually as Christians, and corporately as the church to take an inventory of the way we are treating people, including ourselves. As we do, it is imperative that we make sure that the only Person we glory in is the Lord Jesus Christ. In order to do that, James calls us to look at four ways that we treat people.
- Treating people based on man’s motives (2:2-4)
It’s here that James reveals the true motive of our heart, one that will either be motivated by man or by mercy. As James shows us this startling illustration between how we respond to the man dressed in riches and the one dressed in rags we are confronted with the reality our own hearts. For many of us we discover a glaring discrepancy between what we say we believe and how we put that belief into practice. For if we agree with God, that all people are precious, then our behavior, how we treat people, will back up that belief. So, let me ask you, do you have a preference when it comes to people, do you treat people differently because of the color of their skin, or their educational status, or their economic situation? If a rich guy in a tailored suit came walking into church followed by a homeless man that smelled or a skater kid that looked like he just lost a fight with a nail gun and transferred the color from his clothes into his hair would you treat them the same? I’m not asking if you would like them the same, I’m asking would you love them the same? Buried in James illustration is a deeper truth, because for most of us it’s obvious that we shouldn’t treat people differently just because they can’t afford the same clothes but what is the point of the illustration? It’s here that James reveals why we treat people differently. This is the motive that leverages our love or lack thereof. Why do we treat people differently, verse 4 gives us the answer. Because we like to set ourselves up as judge and jury. Think about what it means to show partiality, first you have to determine a difference between the people in question. Then you have to make a judgment as to which person is better than the other one. Almost inevitably, you will choose the one who is most like you. 20 years ago as a foreigner when I applied for US residency the agent processing my application looked at me said well at least you look like an America! Take a guess at his ethnic background. He was comfortable with me coming into his country because we looked alike! Side note today we have bought into the lie that what is destroying America is foreigners, but its fear. A fear rooted in prejudice because people seem different than us. Most of the time we will default to liking the person who is most like us unless you don’t like yourself and then you’ll choose the one who is most different than you. But in all cases, when we are judging partiality between two people, who are you setting up as the standard? Self becomes the mold by which we measure other people against? Whenever we show partiality in the way we treat people, we are doing it out of a selfish motive. In James’ illustration the rich man was shown the preferred seat because of what they thought they could get out of him. Because of the potential for personal benefit. James warns us about extending preferential treatment to a person who can “do something for us.” That is not love its leverage, where the basis becomes benefitting self instead of blessing those we serve. Let’s face it man’s motives are selfish. Our natural way of treating people is to give preference to those who will benefit and make us look good. Sometimes we get caught up in showing preference to people of high standing for the benefit of what they can do for us. But sometimes we show preference to people of lesser standing for the benefit of how good they make us look when we stand next to them. If left unchecked, our motives for how we treat people will become rooted in selfishness instead of in scripture. Our prejudice problem stems from being grafted to the worlds system instead of God’s Word. As a result, we listen to the lies instead of listening to the Lord. We let the media get us all worked up instead of focusing on the Master and being worshiped up. If there is prejudice in your hearts it will poison your attitude and actions. We will become people who preach Jesus but practice judging. Look we all struggle with prejudice, but according to God’s Word there should be no room for it in His church because there was no room for it at the Cross. As we interact with people, we need to ask ourselves why do I treat this person kindly? What is motivating my ministry? Is it so I can get something in return? Or why do I treat this person poorly? Is it to make me look better? Judging doesn’t leave room for Jesus. The thoughts in your head reveal the truth in your heart. How you treat people reveals whether Gods truth is just head knowledge or a heart reality. And how you handle and help the people who can’t do anything for you will reveal the real health of your heart? Sadly, many of us are more caught up with how people are judging us than concerned with how we judge others. Look you can’t control how others judge you, but you can control how you judge others. Instead of viewing people through the lens of judging we need to look at them through the eyes of Jesus. It’s so freeing to just love people based on the cross instead of the culture. We need to discover and uncover the motives behind the way we treat people.