What We're Talking About
This passage is about two things. Once you think you know what it’s about, James goes somewhere else, and then he circles back to the start. He is writing to very religious people—remember that. In fact, they likely have a background in two religions: Judaism and Christianity. They have already been taught to live by the law of God and the teachings of Jesus. They’re not murderers and thieves. They have “respectable” sins. In this way, they’re probably a lot like us.
We can figure out from this letter what the problems were. Those people gossiped sometimes. They got angry with one another. And when a rich person showed up at the church door, they shoved poor folks aside to clear the path.
So that’s the first challenge James offers in this chapter: Do we show favoritism? It’s natural to get nervous around celebrities. No one would blame us for favoring the rich folks who show up to worship with us. It’s normal behavior. Except it goes against all the truth of God.
The rich don’t deserve special treatment; in fact, the poor do. Doesn’t the kingdom of God belong to them? That’s the first thing this passage is about: favoritism. But then James jumps to a second point—lawbreaking. He addresses his very religious readers and says, “You are lawbreakers. If you have ever said an unkind thing, if you have ever cursed the chariot driver who cut you off on the Appian Way, and if you have ever shown favoritism—then you’re no better than a murderer. You have broken God’s law. You deserve his judgment.”
All of us have sinned, even religious folks. All deserve judgment. But guess what, God offers you mercy, so receive it. His mercy triumphs over judgment. And once we realize how much we depend on God’s mercy, it’s hard to show favoritism to the rich. Instead, we value the poor, because they have mastered the one thing God wants above all else: relying on Him for everything they have.
Questions for Conversation
- Who's the most famous person you've ever met? How did this happen? How did you react to this person?
- Read James 2:2-3. Suppose this happened in our church. What do you think would happen? How would we treat the two people differently?
- Read James 2:5-7, Do you think James is promoting a "reverse favortism," in which we welcome and honor the poor more than the rich?
- How does the idea of mercy bring us back to the matter of favortism?