James Study 5: The first will be last and the last first
Read James 1:9-11 and James 2:1-13.
“as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism.” James 2:1
James, having pointed out that true religion is “looking after the orphans and widows…” and “keep(ing) oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27), goes on to enlarge on this subject. He points out how we, as true Christian believers, should behave towards one another, which is totally opposite to the way the world does. He reminds us of where our focus should be: on our “glorious Lord Jesus Christ” – before we look to people. He is particularly considering our attitude to those who look as if they have more or less than we have.
We cannot be Christians just by agreeing with the relevant biblical facts or sound doctrine; it will be a natural outworking of our faith that we behave towards others in just the way that God wants us to: in obedience to His word. We receive salvation by faith alone but we work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12) by acting on our faith in obedience to God’s word.
Jesus showed no favouritism and loved all people, regardless of whether they were rich or poor. We no longer have the right to live for ourselves because we belong to Jesus and represent Him in the world. So we have to respond to people just like He did, with the Holy Spirit in us. If we walk in the Spirit, we will not respond in the flesh (1 Peter 4:2; Galatians 5:16). He will enable us to be full of His love, (1 John 2:5) slow to speak, quick to listen (James 1:19) and to have the ability to be honest without being offensive (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). The fruit of the Holy Spirit will pour out of us (John 15:5) and people will be drawn to Jesus.
What is favouritism?
It means choosing or treating a person differently than another for the motive of personal gain.
Why do we show favouritism?
1. Sinfulness – James 2:9; Galatians 5:20.
2. Double standards – Malachi 2:9
3. Evil thinking – Romans 12:3; James 2:5
4. Pride – Proverbs 13:10
5. Judgmentalism – James 2:2-3
6. Manipulative behaviour – James 2:6-7
7. Prejudice – James 2:3-4
8. Misplaced loyalty – 1 Corinthians 4:6
Favouritism comes from having the wrong attitude in our own heart. We take one look at people and immediately come to a conclusion regarding their spiritual condition, social status (clothes, money, house), education, life habits or past sin and we decide whether we want to associate with them again or not. We have emotions of jealousy, fear, self-righteousness, prejudice and competitiveness.
In churches today, people are often chosen for a job (Philippians 1:17) because of their financial position, their natural ability, or social influence, not because they have spiritual gifts to equip them. This so often causes problems (James 2:6) because people believe themselves to be capable. They do not do any of the work by faith in God’s strength or with a servant heart. They suffer burnout and are offended (James 3:14,16) when the job is taken from them, because they were never meant to be doing it in the first place. The person who was meant to be in the position and had a passion to serve God in that area did not have, perhaps, any basic education and is now going through a wilderness experience, wondering why he or she is not being used. This dishonours the Name of Christ and enables the devil to work by causing division in the Body of Christ. (See 1 Corinthians 4:6-13.)
No one person should have any priority over another but all should look at others as better than themselves (Romans 12:3). People who are called by God to do a job, either in a church or secular organisation, are anointed for that task, 1 John 2:26-27. This means that the whole power of God, through the Holy Spirit, is available to them to do that job. That is far greater than any natural ability. Also, if we are anointed, we can be humble, because we recognise that it is Christ in us that does the work and we have no reason to boast. (See Ephesians 2:9.)
What is the answer?
1. Faith in Jesus Christ – Ephesians 2:19
2. Right Self image – James 2:5; Matthew 5:3; Psalm 139
3. Royal Law of Love – James 2:8; Galatians 5:13-15.
4. Equality for all people – Galatians 3:28
5. True wealth in heaven – 1 Timothy 6:17-19; Matthew 6:17-19
6. Right priorities – heart focused during worship John 4:23-24.
7. Treat others like Jesus did – Matthew 18:35; Philippians 2:2-3
8. Remember where wealth comes from – Deuteronomy 8:18
9. Humility – Psalm 25:9; James 4:6
10. All parts of one body – Ephesians 4:25
11. We are all repentant sinners – Romans 3:23.
The Cross is a great equaliser. – Because of Jesus’ death we are all one.
- Our hostility against each other has been put to death.
- We can all have access to the Father by the Holy Spirit
- We are no longer foreigners to God or each other.
- We are all being built into a holy temple with Jesus as the chief cornerstone.
When we meet together with others, if we do not lay aside what we see with our physical eyes and focus on Jesus with our spiritual eyes, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to our spirits in the worship, then He will be grieved and we will miss out on a great blessing. When we come together with others, we must continually remember that we are all repentant sinners. We cannot afford to make distinctions between people because of their outward appearance. (See James 2:5.)
God sees the poor in this world as being rich, because they are full of faith. (Read James 2:5.) Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3)
These are people who may have few of this world’s possessions, but recognise their desperate need of salvation through Jesus Christ. It is so hard for someone who has an abundance of wealth to recognise that all they have comes from God (Deuteronomy 8:18; Matthew 19:23-24) and that it all belongs to Him. (See Mark 10:21-22.)
If we do favour anyone, it should be the poor and the powerless – following the example of Jesus. These are those with very little money, but also those with simple values whom society devalues. We should not walk the same way as the world or let the world’s values into our churches.
Law and Grace
In the body of Christ, we need constantly to be reminded that we are no longer under the law. (See Galatians 3:13.) If we choose to put ourselves back under the law which binds (Galatians 3:3,5), having chosen to receive grace (the unmerited favour of God), then we have to obey the law to the letter, otherwise we will have broken it all. (James 2:11) Too often we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8) and then slip into living under rules and regulations, condemning others who do not obey all the extra laws that we have in our own minds, just like the Pharisees in Jesus day. (Matthew 23:13-15) We only exist today and walk with God because of His amazing mercy, so we must ALWAYS look and see others through the eyes of mercy. (See James 2:13.)
“So from now on we regard no-one from a worldly point of view.” 2 Corinthians 5:16
The Real Church – Home Challenges 5
1. What picture do you conjure up in your mind when you think about favouritism?
Read the notes about favouritism.
2. Which two points from the notes do you think are the chief reasons we show favouritism?
3. Look up two verses relevant to the “answers to favouritism” that you find most helpful. Write them out here.
4. What is true wealth, according to Timothy? 1 Timothy 6:17-19.
5. What heart changes have you made this week relating to anyone you had a problem with according to this word?
Read James 2:14-26
6. What two kinds of faith are there described in this passage?
7. James asks the question, “Can such faith save him?” (James 2:14) Write down what you think is the answer to this question. Give reasons.
8. What example does James use to make his point? James 2:15-16
9. Are there people you know like this? How could you personally become involved in helping to solve some social problem in your community?
It is often said that there is one God and we all worship Him in our own way. The latest “buzz-word” is “multi-faith”. James states that: “demons believe that there is one God – and tremble“.
10. How would you answer people who say that they believe that every one will go to heaven?
11. Those who believe that faith without deeds is valid are described in James 2:20. What single word does James use to describe them?
12. Read James 2:21-24 carefully – more than once. It discusses the evidence shown to us by Abraham.
a. How did the faith of Abraham demonstrate itself?
b. What was the result of this demonstration of faith on Abraham’s part?
13. So we see that faith is made complete in actions.
a. How does the result affect God?
b. How does the result affect the individual who exercises his faith?
14. Read Joshua 2. James uses the example of Rahab to illustrate his point. (James 2:25.)
a. What two actions did Rahab take in her treatment of the spies?
b. What was the result for both her and her household?
c. Why was Rahab told to stay inside her house?
15. Can you find a parallel to the story of Rahab in our relationship with Jesus Christ?
16. Does James mean literal death when he talks about the body and the spirit? (James 2:26)
17. How closely related are faith and works according to this illustration? (Galatians 5:6)
18. Do you need to change anything in your life as a result of your study of this passage of Scripture?