James 2:1-17 (Common English Bible)
Don’t show favoritism
2 My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. 2 Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. 3 Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.”4 Wouldn’t you have shown favoritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges?
5 My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? 7 Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?
8 You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself. 9 But when you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker. 10 Anyone who tries to keep all of the Law but fails at one point is guilty of failing to keep all of it. 11 The one who said, Don’t commit adultery, also said, Don’t commit murder. So if you don’t commit adultery but do commit murder, you are a lawbreaker. 12 In every way, then, speak and act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom. 13 There will be no mercy in judgment for anyone who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy overrules judgment.
14 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? 15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? 17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.
Thoughts on the passage:
In Matthew, Jesus gives the command that we should not judge unless we want to be judged ourselves. In James, Paul is echoing this same view. For Paul we have a clear choice, we can be slaves to the law or we can be freed by grace. Paul started out a slave to the law himself. He spent the beginning of his career as a religious leader and legal expert. He persecuted the early Christians because he felt they were failing to follow the laws of God and needed to be judged for it. Then Paul encountered Christ and instead of receiving judgement he received grace and his whole message changed.
We see this over and over in the news. When people begin to judge others, they open themselves up to a higher level of criticism, and often come out looking the worse for it. Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk refusing to issues marriage licenses has received substantial criticism online for the fact that she has been married four times. Right or wrong in her stand on the issue, before she took it, no one cared about her marriages, but once she entered into the public awareness, the judgment began.
Unfortunately we do it in our own little ways too, though thankfully most of them go unpublished by major media outlets. I suspect that most of us have fallen into the trap that Paul suggests, looking at those with wealth and those without and placing our judgements on both. When we see a person do we look at how they are dressed and does that matter? Do we look at the state of their clothes, the color of their skin, whether or not they have tattoos and then form an opinion of them? We all do it. We all judge and in turn we all get judged and none of us come out well from that.
God does not want us to judge each other. God does not want us to be slaves to the things we pretend matter, like wealth, beauty, intelligence, and strength. Paul reminds us what truly matters is compassion, love, and grace. We do not have to be slaves to those kind of standards, instead we can be judged by the law of freedom and grace. Jesus looked at sinners like Peter and Paul and called them into ministry. He looked at tax collectors and sinners and ate with them. His grace was there for anyone and everyone who wanted to break that cycle of judgment.
Our salvation is rooted in God’s grace. Without God’s grace we are left to be judged by the law, something none of us is really ready to do. How do we respond to that grace matters too. If we accept the grace that God gives us as spread it to others (loving our neighbor as ourselves) then our work reflects our faith. On the other hand, if we accept God’s grace but do not extend it to others, that grace becomes hollow and our faith is dead.
We have a choice with how we live our lives and how we live out our faith. Do we live out our faith like people who believe in God’s transforming love, or do we live as people who believe in God’s condemnation and judgement? James is clear, we cannot do both. If we believe in love, we need to live like it (not just talk like it). If we believe in judgement then we need to be prepared to face it ourselves? We cannot judge others without facing it ourselves.
I believe Paul’s message in James is also clear, we cannot separate the spiritual from the physical. If we are going to believe that God loves everyone, then how do we show that to everyone? We need to rebel against the pressures of society that embed judgement into everything. Instead we need to live out the freedom of love, that sees not with the eyes of our culture, looking for signs of status, but instead with the eyes of God, that sees everyone as a beloved child. This is the work of our faith.
Questions to Ponder:
When is a time you have felt judged by others and when is a time you have found yourself judging others as well?
Who is someone you know who lives out their faith clearly in their actions and not just their words?
What is something that you tend to judge others on?
What can you do differently to see more with God’s eyes than your own?
Prayer: God of love, over and over you call broken people like us into your presence and you shower us with your unending grace. Help us to know that love and grace for ourselves and help us to share that grace with others. Too often we feel pressured to judge others, just as we have been judged harshly ourselves. Give us the courage instead to reach out with love and grace, to remember that salvation we have experienced in you and offer to others. Forgive us when our actions fail to live out our faith, and free us once more to follow you, each and every day. AMEN