James began epistle by making some declarations about means God uses to bring his children to holiness; hard truths for original audience to hear and agree with, same for us nearly 2000 years later. Since it is Word of God, is profitable and applicable to us as it was in first century. Pathway to holiness could also be thought of as railway to holiness – one rail: trials and temptations; other rail: the Word of God. One rail: law defining substance; other rail: faith supplying dynamic.
Law identifies principles necessary for staying on the rails; faith supplies motive force to move us along the track. Model addresses two questions – what is practical godliness, how do we achieve it.
“The law does not only prove to be the taskmaster/tutor unto Christ as the sole origin of regeneration (Deut. 31:26-27; Rom. 6:6). Neither does the law merely prove to be the taskmaster/tutor unto Christ as the sole ground of justification (Gal. 4:24). It also proves to be the taskmaster/tutor unto Christ as the sole source of sanctification (Rom. 7:4-6). By the same token the law certainly can and does tell us what holiness is, contrary to the anti-nomian and non-nomian positions, outlined in the context of James 1:25. Nevertheless, however much the law exposes sin in, and spells death for, rebels (Deut. 30:14-20), in and by itself it spells holiness and life (Deut. 30:14-20; 32:46-47; Rom. 7:12). In fact, this is its first and foremost design.” Krabbendam
In chapter 2 James deals first with one rail, Law, then with the other rail, Faith; first the Law as the standard of holiness, then faith as necessary dynamic for applying and obeying God’s Law. Short rabbit trail: to quote Paul from when he says we “are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14-15) and conclude God’s Law no longer applies or is in force is wrong. God’s Law as a rule of life has applied and been in force from the beginning, and will continue so long as God continues – his Law is an expression of his character. Paul’s meaning in Romans: we are not under law as means of justification nor are we as believers under its condemnation; that’s a far cry from saying we’re not obliged to follow it.
Why did James pick this particular sin (prejudicial partiality) to weigh in against first? Well, it’s sinful on so many levels, is an obvious application of chapter 1 teaching about trials, opportunity for James to establish in NT the pattern of Deut. 5-26 – recitation of Ten Commandments in ch. 5, then detailed exposition in ch. 6-26.
A. injunction against partiality v.1
faith in Christ and partiality are mutually exclusive (1) – James uses strongly emphatic statement: “My brothers, not with partiality do you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ of glory”. Indicates not only is it an egregious sin, not possible to have true living faith in Christ and behave in discriminatory way that denies the Gospel. Earthly kingdoms may have caste systems, God’s kingdom does not; his subjects shouldn’t act as if there were. This way of thinking gets below the surface, recognizes that only two classes of people: saved & lost. Even that distinction has no bearing on value, personal worth as human being made in God’s image.
God doesn’t practice it toward man (2 Chr. 19:7; Job 34:19; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Eph. 6:9; 1 Pet. 1:17) Would be a violation of God’s character/nature to show biased partiality (God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, inhis being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. WSC Q. 4); God equates partiality with perversion of justice in Deut. 16:19. While God in some ways doesn’t treat all people the same, neither does he make distinctions based on outward appearance or circumstances.
God didn’t behave that way himself (Phil. 2:5-8) Lord Jesus during earthly life didn’t pull rank nor did he treat others on basis of position in society. Was just as at ease discussing points of law with wealthy scholar as accepting practical hospitality from former prostitute.
God forbids it (Lev. 19:15; Deut 1:17; Deut. 16:19) God expects whether in court setting or elsewhere that people will be treated with consideration whether rich or poor, high or low estate. In exposition of the 5th commandment, God through Moses explicitly forbids partiality; requires that in interpersonal relations his people will do what is just and right.
B. example of partiality v.2-4
discriminatory treatment (both attitude and action) based on externals (2-3) Scenario: two people show up at church same Sunday: one in 3-pc suit, wife in dress, sons in suits; the other in baseball cap, sweatshirt and khakis. Suit gets a greeting, a bulletin, a Focus, an escort to a good seat. Sweatshirt gets offhand “help yourself, sit wherever”. The 90% body language clearly communicates warm welcome to one, dismissive lack of regard for the other.
What thinking underlies that behavior? First, assessment of two individuals based on outward appearance: clothing and accessories, demeanor, personal hygiene, perhaps ethnicity. Next, assign individual to categories: rich, poor, confident, awkward, clean, dirty, white, black. Based on assessment and assignment, then adjudicate (act as judge): this one more desirable, worthy of cultivation or attention, within the comfort zone. Reverse treatment is just as despicable – shunning rich in favor of poor; both forms of snobbery are condemned by Scripture and should never be found in Christ’s church. Either will serve to divide God’s family from one another, promoting lack of the unity that Lord Jesus expects his followers to have.
succeeds in offending both man and God (4); cp. Jas. 1:9-10 In context of James’ letter, must read this in context of ch. 1, what he says about God’s use of circumstances to try our faith and increase our holiness. The one shunned may in fact be a child most dearly loved by God but presently in difficult circumstances sent to strengthen his faith; shameful treatment may serve to weaken his faith. The one pandered to may be a child most dearly loved by God but presently experiencing testing/temptation of wealth; fawning attentiveness may serve to increase temptation and cause him to stumble further.
James equates making such distinctions with putting oneself in God’s place as judge, presumptuous to say the least. To make matters worse, it’s done with attitude, way of thinking that is offensive to God.
Lest you think that doesn’t happen in the evangelical church today: speaking with individual 12/09/2011; had been member in church (Manchester, NH) more than 20 years. Leadership decided to move to “purpose-driven model” for church ministry; suddenly, providing tangible help to poor and disadvantaged in the neighborhood no longer a fit. Were seeking a different demographic profile for their church family.
C. preventive medicine for partiality v.5-7
think about it: get your thought processes right-side up Way James phrases questions, contrasts this sort of behavior with what should be, their actions with what God has done. Given these are “churched” folks, their attitude of partiality is surprising, unexpected, given what they should know and how they should think.
about God and his ways (5) God’s ways are not the world’s ways of either thinking or doing. World tends to rely on appearances, surface characteristics, common sense. God, and by extension his people, is concerned with issues of heart and character and true spirituality. To recognize God at work, think his thoughts, conform to his image requires sanctified sense found in operation of renewed mind. Hard as it is, must resist temptation or easy habit of using common sense when sanctified sense and godly wisdom are available for the asking.
about your own failure to obey (think and act like God) (6a) Thinking about and treating anyone as inferior is contrary God’s character and his law. God values poor and rich alike, so should we; means treating them with dignity and respect regardless of status or socio-economic position. Also means believers should have a sanctified understanding of wealth, what represents true riches and proper view of earthly riches.
about how their lives Mon-Sat fail to measure up to profession on Sun. (6a-7) Welcome received is highly disproportionate to overall conduct. May have made “profession of faith” but character of life not consistent with profession. To go overboard in treating with distinction as if nothing is amiss sends wrong message – either to “backslider” or a false professor. Must use discernment and godly thinking in all our personal interactions, doing our best to communicate what is pleasing to God.
Pursuit of holiness requires thought – discernment and wisdom. Discernment to see situations for what they are, wisdom to apply biblical principles properly; results in biblical way of thinking and acting founded on knowledge of God’s law/Word and exercise of faith. Means we must be saturated with Word of God and its principles, constantly seeking wisdom from God to understand and apply to each situation and decision before us.