Don't Show Favoritism (James Sermon 4)
February 02, 2020 | Andrew Davis
Sanctification, The Poor, Holiness, Money and Possessions, Humility, Good Works, Hospitality
So turn in your Bibles to James 2. We'll look this morning at verses 1-13. I'm sorry for my physical condition. I'm not feeling very well. Don't worry, I don't think it's the Coronavirus. When I was in California I saw tons of people with masks on and all that. I tried to stay away from them. I wonder if they had masks on so they would stay away from me. But just be praying for my voice, that it won't give out. And at the end of this message, I'm going to talk a little about those conditions, and the Lord's been pressing some of those things on my heart.
Favoritism Throughout Church History
I have a love for church history. I come from New England, and if you're up there in New England you can see everywhere, basically on every street corner, historic congregational churches. The Church was really the center of every community, congregational churches were the center of every community. And if you went into some of those, the older churches, you could see boxed pews. You could see pews with boxes and little doors next to them, and they would have plaques on them with ancestral family names engraved on those plaques. In my opinion, they represent a scandal in the history of the church because wealthy families were able to reserve the best seats in the house and pay for them by their tithes and offerings, and actually were able to bequeath those seats to their children, and then eventually to their grandchildren. So this would go on for generation after generation. And this reflected the aristocratic nature of colonial society in which those with the power and wealth could buy the best seats in the churches.
You see the same thing if you've ever been to colonial Williamsburg. You can go into the Bruton Parish Church there, and you can see plaques where, "This was Thomas Jefferson's pew", or, "This was George Washington's pew", etcetera, same kinds of things. Now, these things were much more on display in the caste system, aristocratic England, and in Europe. One ancient document of the ecclesiastical laws for the Church of England had this statement, listen to this. "The parishioners have indeed a claim to be seated according to their rank and station, but the church wardens are not, in providing for these, to overlook the claims of all the parishioners to be seated if sittings can be afforded to them." Now listen, as a church historian you have to learn to read between the lines. Let me put that in simple language. Alright? "The wealthy powerful people should be seated in the best seats, and if there are any seats left over for the poor people, they can have them." Do you wonder if they actually even read the text we're about to look at today? I mean, it's such a clear violation of the spirit of what the Lord is saying in James 2:1-13. The problem of favoritism, of we could even use the word discrimination, in churches is not a new one. It's been going on for a long time, even going back to the very beginning of the Church.
I. Favoritism is Forbidden in Christ’s Church (vs. 1-4)
James Simply Forbids Favoritism
So this is my first point in the outline, “Favoritism is Forbidden in Christ's Church, verses 1-4. Look at verse 1, "My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism." This is absolutely prohibited, forbidden in the life of the Church. Congregations of Christians must show the total equality of all human beings before the Law of God and before the cross of Christ. The Law of God and the cross of Christ are great levelers of human beings. And we see this throughout the New Testament. Colossians 3:11 says, "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave or free." The last is a socioeconomic division, "but Christ is all and is in all."
What is Favoritism?
So when we come to favoritism, as I mentioned, another translation might be “discrimination,” but the literal Greek word is the “lifting up of someone's face.” The lifting up of the face. So that means judging someone by external appearance, by their face, by their position, by their clothing, etcetera, by their wealth and social status, partiality, being a respecter of persons.
James on Specific Incidents of Favoritism
James gets very specific about the kind of favoritism that he means. Look at verses 2-4, "Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in, if you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes, and say, 'Here's a good seat for you', but say to the poor man, 'You stand there, or sit on the floor by my feet', Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" So in this case it specifically has to do with the rich. The case study is of the church assembled for worship to hear the word of God preached, to sing the praises of the Lord Jesus Christ. So two different men walk into the service. We don't know anything about them. James doesn't tell us anything about them in terms of their spiritual condition. Perhaps they're believers or unbelievers, he doesn't say. Perhaps members of the church or not. Again, he doesn't say. The only difference has to do with their clothing, their physical appearance and what that shows about their status, about their wealth.
One man has a gold ring and fine clothes, literally shining clothes, radiant clothes, and they are perhaps shimmering with light, the highest quality clothing is this individual. So he's got a gold ring, he's got nice jewelry, and shining clothes, and the other man is wearing poor, shabby clothes. The Greek word implies the clothes are actually filthy. The King James version has the word, “vile.” So that's a clear translation. So perhaps they smell or they stink. So this is a key moment when these two individuals walk in, how they are treated. If you show special attention to the man wearing the gold ring and the fine clothes, the shining clothes, and you've got a reserved section for wealthy people, and you usher him right to the best seat in the house, say, "Here's an excellent seat for you", but then a moment later you treat the poor man in a very shabby way, shoving him off to the side or having him sit on the floor. By the way, I don't mean any disrespect for those of you that are sitting off to the side. I did clear it with some of you folks saying they're actually not bad seats, but we don't have any special section. We don't have a roped off section based on people's socioeconomic status. But if you treat that poor man in a shabby way you have violated the spirit of the text, you've violated the Law of God. That's what James is saying, that's exactly what he's talking about. And this doesn't seem to have been merely theoretical, it was actually happening.
II. Favoritism is Contrary to Christ and to God (vs. 1)
Look at verse 6, "You have insulted the poor." He's not saying, "If this should happen to happen." It was already happening. And he's saying, "This must stop." He gives an array of reasons why it must stop. Let's walk through them. This is outline point number two, “Favoritism is Contrary to Christ and to God.” Verse 1, "My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism." So Jesus is called here the Lord of glory. What a beautiful title for Jesus, the Lord of glory. In this text he talks about people being rich in faith. I want you all to be rich in faith. I want you to be richer in faith at the end of this sermon than you were before.
By Faith We See His Glory
Now, what is faith but the eyesight of the soul by which we see invisible spiritual realities past, present, and future? So see with me now a present spiritual reality. I'm not going to ask you to close your eyes, but if you could just imagine the glory of Jesus seated on a throne, high and exalted. Isaiah 6, "And the train of his robe fills the temple." Your eyes would be blinded by the glory. This is the glory of Jesus. And friends, if that doesn't have a leveling, humbling effect on you, I don't know what could. Who of us can stand in the presence of such glory? Who of us would not feel with Isaiah that we want to fall on our faces and say, "Woe is me, I'm ruined, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of glory"? And so Jesus, His glory, His radiance, His person, just levels us all. And as believers in this Lord of glory, we can't see him with our eyes, we've never seen Him, but we can see Him now by the ministry of the Word, by the power of the Holy Spirit. “As believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, do not show favoritism.”
Jesus Was Not a Respecter of Persons
We also need to look at Jesus's example. In life, in the ministry, He was absolutely no respecter of persons. He couldn't care less what someone's socioeconomic status, or their political power was at all. It didn't mean anything to Him. He had literally no fear of man at all. He treated everyone the same, independent of their rank or their status or whether they were a Jew or a Gentile, a male or a female. It just didn't matter to Him at all. He dealt tenderly and clearly and respectfully with people who were repentant sinners, who came to Him humble. If you came to Jesus humble, if you were a spiritual beggar, he dealt with you that way. It didn't matter whether you were an outcast leper, or a rich young ruler, or an immoral prostitute, or a member of the Jewish ruling council, or if you were a Roman Centurion in charge of 100 Roman soldiers, or a Samaritan woman getting water from the well in the heat of the day, everyone was dealt with the same, and that is, "Do you recognize your own sinfulness? Are you a spiritual beggar?" And if so, He would deal with you very kindly. He was no respecter of faces or stations or power or prestige or money. None of that meant anything, because He knew very well where we're all heading. He knew where all of this is going, He knew that every single human being would someday would stand before Him in judgment stripped of all of those earthly trappings, like we're all wearing costumes. Like kids doing dress up. It's not who we really are, and it's all going to get stripped off. And so every single human being is going to stand before Jesus.
When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory, and “all the nations will be gathered before Him and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” And their socioeconomic status won't mean anything, their political power won't mean anything. None of it will mean anything at all.
Christ is the Perfect Image of God
Now, Christ's impartiality was so pronounced, and it was so clear, that His enemies even acknowledged it and tried to use it to trap Him. You remember? On the question about taxation? They come to Him with this fawning praise. They hated Jesus. Jesus knew they were hypocrites. But this is what they said, "Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of truth in accordance with God's Word. You're not swayed by men since you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us, is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" So even Jesus's enemies acknowledged this about Him. He had literally no fear at all of people. And that's exactly how God is as well. Jesus is the perfect reflection of Almighty God.
If I can just say to any of you that's tempted to be very arrogant and prideful about your earthly situation, God is not impressed with you. “All of the nations are like dust on the scales and like grasshoppers.” Whatever way you think you're better than another human being, it says nothing to Almighty God. Psalm 62:9 says, "Low-born men are but a breath, the high-born are but a lie." In other words, there's no difference between them to God. Together they are only a breath, if weighed on a balance, they are nothing. God, again and again, we're told in Scripture, does not show favoritism. It says this again and again in the Book of Romans. For example, Romans 2:9-11, "There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, first for the Jew then for the Gentile. But glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good, first for the Jew then for the Gentile, for God does not show favoritism." And again, Ephesians 6:9, "Masters, treat your slaves in the same way, do not threaten them since you know that He who is both their master and yours is in Heaven and there is no favoritism with Him.” In other words, on Judgment Day you're not going to be either master or slave, you're going to be human being. And God is going to evaluate you based on who you were, based on your faith and whether, at the end of the text, you showed mercy to others.
Jesus’ Impartial Obedience
So Jesus Christ perfectly followed His Father's complete indifference to rank and station of the poor sinners He came to save. All of them have sinned, all of them will die, all of them will face judgment, His judgment, and all of them need Him to save them from eternal condemnation. In that sense, they're absolutely equal before Him. Before the Law of God the ground is absolutely level. Everyone has violated it. Before the cross of Christ the ground is absolutely level. Everyone who repents and trusts in Christ will be saved by it, and churches should reflect that. Churches should give a strong sense of that leveling because it's necessary for our salvation. "Unless you are changed, [converted,] and become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven." So there has to be this leveling work that goes on.
And on Judgment Day money will make no difference whatsoever. First of all, you won't have any. What would a man give in exchange for his soul? Well, on Judgment Day there will be nothing you can give because you'll have nothing. But it says this, Proverbs 11:4, "Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death." And we know that that means, in the fuller explication of the Scripture, imputed righteousness that comes from Christ, perfect righteousness will deliver you from eternal death. But your wealth will not. It will not help you. So this is the character of God, and this is the character of his son, the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ, and it should be the character of Christ's Church.
III. Favoritism Reveals an Evil Heart (vs. 4)
Showing Favoritism Reflects an Evil Heart
Outline point number three, “Favoritism Reveals an Evil Heart.” Look at verse 3 and 4. It says, "If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes, and say, 'Here's a good seat for you', but say to the poor man, 'You stand there, or sit on the floor by my feet', Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" “Judges with evil thoughts.” Specifically, I think in the translation from the Greek we would say a worldly heart, a divided heart, a double-minded heart. The reason that you're showing favoritism to the rich man but shoving the poor man off to the side or onto the floor is simply this, the rich man can do things for you in this world that the poor man cannot. And if you care about that, you are divided in your mind, you're worldly in your perspective. The rich man can buy things. He can buy you clothing, he can buy you houses, he can get you a high-paying job. He has influence in this world and in society, and he can get you things. And if those are the things you want, and you don't care about people, then something's wrong with you. You have become a worldly-minded judge, a corrupted person. Because the poor man can do none of these things for you, and actually is going to probably cost you time, and energy, and money, and you know it. And you don't want to give, and you don't want to be invested in the poor person's life, and so you stay away from that suffering. You draw away from that, but you want to go toward the wealthy person because he can help you. But all of this is just evidence of worldliness.
A Worldly Heart
James is going to expose this worldliness more in chapter four. I'll just read a couple of verses, and we'll get to that, God willing, in due time. But he says, "When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people. Don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?" So he's addressing these things, the issues of money and what it shows about the heart. Do you want to be that kind of worldly person, or can you be liberated from that? Well, so it is also in Christian churches today seeking finances and worldly influence from the rich and famous.
I remember when I was involved in a campus ministry, we got especially excited if a varsity player who played some important sport was converted, like the starting quarterback or the point guard on the basketball team, because that meant more than if the equipment manager, or the janitor got saved. We get more excited about Kanye West than we do about somebody that's genuinely converted from a rescue mission. But if Kanye West is genuinely converted we should be thrilled, and give glory and praise to God, and the same if a person from the rescue mission is genuinely converted and begins to walk in a new life. We should give glory and praise to God, because God is rejoicing before the angels in Heaven over both of them. But we tend to be respecters of persons in this regard, and be more excited at the rich and famous being converted. And why? We argue because they have a greater platform. I don't know that. I don't know what God could do through that poor man or woman, and what ministry he could have through that person. God alone knows that. He raises up the lowest of people and does amazing things in and through those people.
IV. Favoritism Ignores God’s Election (vs. 5)
God Delights in Choosing the Poor
Outline point number four, “Favoritism Ignores God's Election.” Verse five, "Listen, my dear brothers, has not God chosen", so that's the doctrine of election, "has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised to those who love Him?" So this goes to the election of God. The Bible teaches election, that “God chose people before the foundation of the world, before they were born or had done anything good or bad, in order that His purpose in election might stand, not by works, but by Him who calls, God chooses, and He delights in choosing the poor.” Overwhelmingly, statistically, God chooses poor, not influential people, to be followers of Jesus Christ. This is true in every generation, and he made this abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 1, which we went through a number of months ago. Remember how the Corinthian Christians were enamored with the great men, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates? And then they just transferred that over to the Christian great men, "I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Cephas." They have that same mentality. They were in love with human wisdom, they were in love with human power, human wealth. And so, Paul has to kind of lower them down, and he does it by getting them to look in the mirror.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29, "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise. Not many of you were influential. Not many of you were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things, the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him." That's powerful, isn't it? When God was choosing His heavenly kickball team who did He want? The worst players. Not the best, the worst. Now praise God it doesn't say, "Not any of you were wise, not any of you were influential, not any noble birth." There's a big difference between not many and not any. There are some, but all over the world the ranks of the Christian church are filled with people that nobody wanted, people that nobody was attracted to.
And this election happened before the foundation of the world. So, for those of you that believe in reformed theology, I agree with you in the doctrine of unconditional election, but I don't like the word, “unconditional.” God has His reasons. I prefer, “sovereign election.” God was actually looking and said, "I want a lot of poor people in Heaven." And so, the text is right there, He chose them because of their rejection by the world, so that He could shame the things that are by the things that are not. So therefore, favoritism to the rich and famous makes no sense at all, because that's not what God is doing, generally.
Rich in Faith
“He has chosen the poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith.” What a great expression that is. I love that expression. To be rich in faith. Their poverty enables them to go to God again and again to have their needs met. Like that poor widow that Elijah stayed with in Zarephath, you remember her? And God didn't give her some super abundant supply of flower and oil to last 10 years, He gave her enough for that day. You remember? And every day the vessels would replenish. And what do you think her faith was like at the end of that experience? Day, after day, after day, looking to God to meet the need. And so also Paul talks about the widow in need trusts God for her daily needs. She has no family to provide for her, but she's strong in faith. She's rich in faith because she knows that her real provider is invisible heavenly father. And so she is strong, she's rich in faith.
I also like the word rich because it points to a commodity, alright? Rich people in this world go after various commodities, gold, silver, stocks, bonds, oil futures, different things like that. The only commodity you should want for eternity is faith. Faith in Jesus Christ is the only thing that you're going to want on Judgment Day. It's the only commodity that you want to be rich in. It says in 1 John 5:4, "Everyone born of God overcomes the world, and this is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." There's one thing you want to get out of this present world age and that's faith in Christ. When you get that faith in Christ, you will survive this present world age, you'll survive Judgment Day, and you'll go on into eternity. So to be rich in faith, favoritism ignores God's election of poor people all over the world, the poorest of the poor in Cameroon, and in Haiti that I've seen with my own eyes. The Dalit or the untouchable caste in India. The overwhelming majority of Indian Christians come from the untouchable cast. Also, the Burakumin people in Japan, they were ancestrally, leather-workers and butchers and all that, despised in general by the aristocratic Japanese society, a very stratified society, and many Burakumin have come to faith in Christ. To the black slaves in the antebellum South, many of them were chosen by God to be rich in faith and to inherit the Kingdom. God has again and again worked faith and salvation in the hearts of the poor by his sovereign grace.
V. Favoritism Forgets the Oppression by the Rich (vs. 6-7)
Outline point number five, “Favoritism Forgets the Oppression by the Rich.” Look at verse 6 and 7. "But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of Him to whom you belong?" Now James later in chapter 5 is going to deal with rich oppressors. We should imagine that in this I don't think James is talking to the church, because the language is so horrible that I can't imagine anyone claiming to be a Christian and behaving like this. So I think he's just using his platform as a prophet to speak to rich oppressors around the world in every era.
Listen to what he says in James chapter 5:1-6. "Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted and moths have eaten your clothes, your gold and silver are corroded, their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Behold, the wages you fail to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty, you have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence, you have fattened yourself in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men who are not opposing you." James 5:1-6. So those are the kind of rich oppressors that he's dealing with. I think he doesn't go into such details here, but that's what he's dealing with.
Most of the Rich are Unconverted
Now worldwide, the overwhelming majority of the rich and powerful are unconverted. And they use their positions of power to crush and oppress the poor and needy, so they can stay in power and to hinder the spread of the Gospel. That's exactly what James says is going on here. He says, "The rich and powerful are exploiting you." The rich can jury-rig the system to take advantage of the poor. They can bribe judges. They can get certain people that they own established in positions of power and make them puppets. He says, "They're dragging you into court. They then can force you into court where you will lose. No advocate will speak for you. The bribed judge will throw the book at you. The judicial system will enforce the unjust ruling against you." And it says, “they blaspheme the noble name,” I love that, the beautiful name, “the noble name to which you belong,” that is, of Christ. They blaspheme Jesus. They don't have any respect for Jesus, they don't love Jesus. “Their god is their stomach, their glory is in their shame,” Satan is behind their temporary power that they're abusing, they have no respect for Christ and they blaspheme Him daily. So why would you insult the poor to favor the rich class? Look what's happening with rich oppressors.
VI. Favoritism Violates the Law of Love (vs. 8-13)
The Royal Law of Scripture
Outline point number six, “Favoritism Violates the Law of Love.” Verses 8 and 9. It says, "If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as law breakers." So James's final point here has to do with the law. He calls it the Royal Law of Scripture, I love that, the Royal Law of Scripture, the kingly law. God the King is giving this to you, and it's a summation of the law, the second great commandment, love your neighbor as yourself. Paul said in Romans 13 that whatever horizontal commandments there may be, “such as do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, whatever commandments there may be are summed up in this one law, love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to it's neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Well, that's what James is quoting here. Favoritism, however, violates the law of love. It violates the second great commandment, love your neighbor as yourself.
Now listen, you should not twist the second great commandment to say, " I need to love myself first, and then I can love my neighbor as I'm loving myself. I just have such trouble loving myself." Friend, you do not have any trouble loving yourself. You've been loving yourself from your first breath. All of you mothers that have nursing infants, you know exactly what I'm talking about. At three in the morning that child has no concern for you at all. We are fanatically committed to self-interest, been that way our whole lives. It is the very thing the gospel is trying to save us away from, it is what the flesh is all about. But there's just a natural, normal, appropriate love for self, there's nothing wrong with it. When you're hungry, you feed yourself. When you're thirsty, you give yourself a drink. If you're cold, you put on a jacket. If you have an itch between your shoulder blades, you'll break one arm to try to get to it and just make yourself suffer to alleviate your own suffering. You will do whatever it takes to get out of pain. You love yourself already. And so, what the second great commandment is saying is, “love others the way you love yourself,” and as Jesus put it, it's what generally known as the golden rule, do to others what you would have them do to you. So think about the scenario, the case study.
Favoritism Breaks the Law of God
If you were walking into a church service that you've never been in before, how would you want to be treated? How would you want to be treated? Would you want to be shoved off to the side? Or said, "Sit on the floor by my feet"? Or would you want to be treated well? Now, look, a rich person coming in who's a stranger, we want to treat that person well too. We don't want to say to the rich person, "Sit on the floor by my feet." We don't want to do that at all. What we want to do is treat people equally. And so for us then, you see somebody come in, you give up your seat and then you be the one to sit on the floor by somebody's feet. And that way nobody's putting you down, you're just serving. You're willing to make that person's church experience a sweet experience. That's what love is all about. But favoritism, James says, breaks the law. If you strip a person's dignity based on wealth, it's shameful and degrading. And a violation, James says, of one part of the law is a violation of all of it.
Breaking One Law Still Makes You a Law-Breaker
Look at verse 10 and 11, "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, 'Do not commit adultery', also said, 'Do not murder.' If you do not commit adultery, but you do commit murder, you become a law-breaker." So this is a vital plank in our witnessing strategy. As we share the Gospel with lost people, it's very common for people to make a list… the very thing we sang about, a list of things they don't do. Ways that they are morally superior to others. I will never forget, I used to do a street ministry in Boston. We'd go out in cold weather and we'd find people that were cold and we'd feed them and get them to shelters. And I remember there was this one particular man who abandoned his family in Pittsburgh, his wife and children, because he was addicted. But he said he wasn't as bad as another homeless guy that he met over on the other street last week who did X and Y, and Z. I said, "It's incredible what we sinners will do to feel good about ourselves." "Alright, it's true I do this, but I don't do any of these." And what James says here is so vital for us as witnesses, so vital, theologically. If you break one part of God's law you're guilty of violating all of it because the same God gave it all. It's a perfect set of righteousness, of motives and behavior, and God means all of it for all people for all time. That's what he's saying here.
And so, this destroys that works of righteousness that you're going to hear again and again, which I heard from a Lyft driver when I was in California this week as I was sharing the Gospel with him, the same kind of thing. "Well, it's true, this and this, but I don't do this. And I'm hoping to be basically a good person, and to use my good works to pay for my bad." He didn't use that exact language, but that's what he was hoping for. But the same God that said you shall not murder also said you shall not commit adultery, and vice versa. Therefore the law is designed, as we've learned, to bring us to the cross. It's to crush you, it's to humble you, to strip you of self-righteousness and say, "It is true, maybe, that I've neither literally, physically murdered, nor physically committed adultery." Many people can meet those two criteria. But what about, “you shall not covet”? Has your heart ever been set on some advantage that another human being has had? And you were so burned up with jealousy over that? No one can survive that. And so that covetous heart, Jesus then took back to the law against murder and said, "Maybe you haven't physically murdered, but have you ever been angry in your heart towards somebody? Maybe you've never physically committed adultery, but have you ever lusted after somebody?" Jesus is just taking the law of covetousness, a heart law, and applying it to all of it. And what ends up happening is you realize none of us can survive, we have violated God's law, and according to what James says here, we've therefore violated all of it. The whole Book of the Law stands against us.
Praise be that Jesus violated none of it. He wove together a perfect garment of righteousness, and He's just handing it to you as wedding clothing that you can put on to be part of the wedding banquet, just put it on by faith in Christ, just put it on and you'll be seen to be perfectly righteous. You'll actually be seen as though you have violated none of the precepts of God's law because you are in Christ’s righteousness. As it says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
Saved by Mercy to Show Mercy to Others
Now, having been saved by that mercy, we are then commanded to show mercy to others. Look at verses 12 and 13, "Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom." So we are going to be evaluated by that law, and we have already been condemned by it and brought to the cross. Praise God, in that way we are judged by the law in time, that there's time for us to do something about it. We have been brought to the cross. "We speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment."
Freedom Given by the Law
Now, it's beautiful how he says the law gives freedom. And you're like, "Well, how does the law give freedom? All it does is condemn us. It kills us." Well, it kills you to bring you to the cross. And Christ's death becomes your death, and you realize you needed that. But then you're made alive by Christ's resurrection. Now, what? The Holy Spirit then brings you back to the perfect law and says, "Now fulfill this." He takes the perfect moral law and writes it on your heart. He transforms you from the inside, He writes His commandments, by His Spirit, in your heart, and you're transformed. You start to live a different kind of life. That's the very thing we're going to talk about, God willing, next week, the works that come from a justified life.
Now this law sets us free, it's the perfect law that gives freedom. Freedom from sin, from those invisible chains of selfishness and corruption and wickedness that we all have. The law sets you free by bringing you to the cross and then bringing you back to the fulfillment of the law by the Spirit. And he says judgement without mercy will be meted out on Judgment Day for those who have lived merciless lives here on earth. So if you have been shown grace and mercy at the cross, you're under strong obligation to show grace and mercy to others, and you will. You will. If you're genuinely born again you will show mercy. You will not run away from the poor and needy individual, but you'll go toward them. We're going to talk about this next week, but if you've got clothes, daily food, and you see someone in need, you're actually going to do something about it. You're not going to hide away from the person who's going to be a drain on time, energy, money, you're going to go toward them, and you're going to show them mercy. And so, when the poor man comes to your church where he's humiliated everywhere else in life, but when he or she comes to your church, that person's lifted up and elevated and treated like a human being, and they hear the Gospel of freedom, and they're convicted that they also, poor as they are, are a law-breaker too, and they find salvation, and they are ennobled and they are shown that they are an heir of an eternal kingdom and all of their best things are yet to come. That's the kind of church that we want to be part of.
Are You in the Faith?
So what applications can we take? Well, first, let the law convict you and bring you to the cross. Has that ever happened? Do you know that you're a Christian? Did you walk in here today knowing that you're a Christian, you're born again, that you're trusting in Christ alone? If not, then I'm just asking you, let the law do its convicting work to bring you to the cross of Christ, and there you'll find, as the text says, mercy, mercy. God will show you mercy.
The Rich and Poor in Light of Eternity
Secondly, see all people, rich and poor alike, in light of eternity. Let's stop looking at the outward appearance. Let's realize the rich and powerful person has a soul that will spend eternity either in Heaven or Hell. The poor, needy person has a soul that will spend eternity either in Heaven or Hell. Stop looking at the outward appearance. It's like a costume, it's temporary, it doesn't last long. And don't see the poor person only in terms of his neediness, but in terms of the fact that he's created in the image of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ.
Faith is True Wealth
Thirdly, see faith as a true wealth. Get rich in faith. How do you do that? Well, have a quiet time, let's start there. Every single day feed your soul on the Word of God. Let your eyes, the eyes of your heart, be enlightened. Not your physical eyes, but to be able to see invisible spiritual realities, past, present, and future, be able to see Judgment Day and the world beyond, be able to see the world that we're going to in which everyone's free of sin and there's none of that socioeconomic division anymore, but there will be eternal glory will shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father, that's the kingdom that we're heirs of, that James talks about here. See that. See the present reality, the Lord of glory, Jesus, seated on the throne. Be rich in faith. See the past, that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The same God that brought the Jews through the Red Sea, he's just as powerful today. So just every day be feeding on the Word.
Commune With God Daily
I'm surprised as I go into counseling with people and I ask how are your quiet times going, and it's like, "Yeah, it's hit or miss." Can I just urge more “hit” than “miss”? Can we just start there? Let's just have more hit than miss, and then let's just hit all the time, every day. You feed yourself every day. Alright? Physically, feed yourself on the word of God, sit under good teaching, saturate your minds, listen to podcasts, do different things that saturate your mind, memorize scripture, be rich in faith and let the Word of God move us more and more to mercy ministry. I talked about this downstairs last week, on orphan care and widow care, and just we're going to keep talking about this. This is a major theme with James, of caring for people that are poor and needy and in distress. It's easy to shrink back, to pull back from them.
You know I was thinking about this Coronavirus. Many of you I'm sure are thinking about it, and we have friends that are serving the Lord overseas, and they've had to relocate very rapidly because of health concerns. It's not the first time that it's happened. You know that in the history of the Church, Christians made a name for themselves during the various times of plague during the Roman Empire where they cared for the sick and dying, not just of their own, but also of the pagans in the community where everyone is running for their lives and paganism was proved to be bankrupt, morally, here are the Christians going into sick houses, even going to pagan temples where all of the sick and dying were dragged because they were hoping to receive a benefit from the gods and goddesses. Christians would go in there and take them out of that place, carrying them with their own hands, and nursing them to health. And many of those Christians contracted the illness and died. And we're going to meet those heroes, those men and women that nursed sick people to health, we're going to meet them in Heaven. You're going to be honored to meet your sister and brother in Christ that died in a plague during the Black Death or during that Roman era, etcetera.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Fear Death
In 1527, Martin Luther wrote a treatise entitled, “Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague.” It's interesting, and it's amazingly relevant, and I would commend it to you. He's very balanced in his approach. You know, his answer is not a simple yes or no. But one thing he wanted to go after is you should not be afraid to die. You should not be afraid to die. Satan, the devil, feeds fears of death and makes us shrink back. It's why we generally don't care for the poor and needy, because we care too much about our earthly lives and our health and wealth. Now Luther was big on talking to the devil. I'm really not as big on talking to the devil. But this is what he said, and you can read this, this is public domain. He said, "The devil stirs up terrors of death that we do not care for our neighbors as we should. So you should say to the devil,” this is Luther talking, but I'm going to just read it. He also threw ink wells at the devil, he did a lot of things in reference to the devil. "Say to the devil, 'No, you shall not have the last word. If Christ shed his blood for me and died for me, why should I not expose myself to some small dangers for His sake and disregard this feeble plague? If you can terrorize, Christ can strengthen me. If you can kill, Christ can give me life. If you have poison in your fangs, Christ has far greater medicine. Should not Christ with his promises be more important to me than the devil with his threats?'"
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the promise of life in Christ. We thank you that we don't have to fear for our health. We don't have to fear for our pile of money. We don't have to fear for our time and our energy. Help us to do mercy ministry, to be drawn toward those people that are needy, toward those people that are broken, and not be characterized by favoritism or discrimination going after the rich and famous. Help us to treat all people as eternal souls that will soon be stripped of those temporary privileges, or temporary deficiencies, and will be souls, eternal souls either in Heaven or Hell. Help us to be the kind of church that is embracing and enticing, where we treat others the way we ourselves would want to be treated. In Jesus name. Amen.