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17th Sunday after Pentecost

Holy Trinty REC | Greenville, SC


James 2:1-13

Intro

Today we’re going to take a brief caveat from Craig’s series on Isaiah and we’re
going to look at the book of James. That’s right, the whole book. When we’re done
you will know for certain who the author is, when it was written and the exact
relationship of works and faith in the doctrine of justification – or not.

Actually, we’re just going to look at the beginning of chapter 2, but because we don’t
have the time to do a whole series on this complicated book, and we are pulling out
just a part, it’s important, I think, to take just a minute and make a couple of
observations about the book as a whole.

1. First, we should notice who the book was written to. It was written to the
new Jewish converts in the middle of the dispersion or “Diaspora” These
were the Jews who had chosen to follow Christ, even against the teachings of
their families and synagogues. They had been kicked out of their families,
kicked out of their synagogues and had taken persecution for following
Christ.

It seems to me that right from the beginning that this book should resonate
with us. There are few in this room that don’t know what it feels like to take
persecution from family, work or friends for choosing to live the Gospel. For
many of you, family gatherings are not the same. You get questions like:
 “Why doesn’t your husband make more money?”
 “ Why doesn’t your wife get a job?”
 “ Why aren’t your kids in a ‘real’ school?”

Some of you know what it’s like to take a demotion at work for religious
reasons. Some of you have been looked down upon by employers and co
workers because you chose to follow Christ instead of furthering your career.

The book of James is written for you. It’s written for those who chose the
Gospel over the world. BUT, James is not a fluffy book of pure
encouragement by any means. Just like a coach who yells at his players when
the make a mistake, James wants you to DO the Gospel well. He wants your
faith to grow. He wants to encourage you that you’ve made the right choice in
faith, but now it’s time for you to get better at it.

Which brings us to the second thing to note -


2. James is a book of action. It is so much so, that this is where much of the
difficulty of this book comes from. We all know the most famous part in the
middle of Chapter 2 were James says that “faith without works is dead.” And,
without giving that passage the time it deserves we see that James makes a
case that Abraham is justified not just by what he thought, but by what he
did. He was considered righteous because he had a faith that works. But, this
isn’t the only passage about action in the book. We also have statements like
in:
a. Chapter 1 - True Religion is visiting the orphans and widows.
b. Chapter 3 - v. 13, The wise should show his wisdom by good conduct
and works in meekness.
c. Chapter 4 – We are told to Submit to God and Resist the Devil.
d. Chapter 5 we have a whole bunch of commands to action which
include Prayer, Singing, Anointing with oil, Confession of Sin and
Exhorting our brother and sisters.

So the book of James is very much a book of action.

3. But James is also a book of what I’ll call “Negative Action.” Just as there are
commands “DO THIS,” there are many, many commands to “NOT DO THIS.”
a. We are told DO be joyful in suffering , DO NOT view riches as the
answer to it
b. DO bridle your tongue and DO be quick to hear, DO NOT allow cursing
to come out of your mouth
c. DO accept God’s wisdom of meekness, DO NOT boast in pride.

And, if we had time to really break down the book and structure it verse by
verse, we’d see that a sort of chiasm unfolds within this idea of “DO” and “DO
NOT.”
 On either end of the book we are told to be patient and joyful in
suffering.
 Then, inside of that, we are told to not see riches as the way of life
 In further we exhorted to beware of Lust and Desire which only
causes war and strife
 Yet, then we see that wisdom, the good and perfect gift of God is a
wisdom humility and meekness.
 We are told, in light of wisdom to bridle our tongues and be quick to
hear.
 And finally that true, wise faith is one of action. One that lives.

If we follow this chiasm down, it points us right to two verses. They are the last
verse of Chapter 1 and the first verse of Chapter 2, which is were our lectionary
reading begins today. Let me read them for you again.

Chapter 1 verse 27 starts:


Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit
orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from
the world. My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord
Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

What God is saying is that “This faith that you are called to, this Gospel that you have
believed over against the thinking of the world, it looks like this. DO take care of the
poor and DO NOT become stained by the world. “

For the first recipients of this letter, for these Jewish converts in the dispersion it
meant, first and foremost, “DO hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and DO NOT
show partiality, DO NOT show favoritism.” And then he says – Let me give you an
example of what I’m talking about.

You are all probably familiar with this story.

Example:
For instance, you have two men who come who come into your
congregation. The first man is well dressed. He had a beautiful robe on,
the finest sandals money can buy and he’s wearing a gold ring – which was
a tell tale sign that this man has power. When you see this man you rush to
him and are kind to him. You welcome him with open arms and you say
“Sit here, near the front, where you can hear the preacher.” Or you say, “
Sit here near the window where it’s cool and comfortable.”

The second man, however, has nothing spectacular about him at all. He is
poor and disheveled. Maybe he smells and is a bit dirty. When this man
comes in, you don’t say “Come, sit in this good place.” Instead you say,
“You stand over there.” Or you say, “Sit at my feet.” Or maybe, even worse,
you don’t say anything at all.

Now, clearly, in the United States (especially post civil-rights movement USA), we
are not working with the same presuppositions that these Christians were. When
we hear this story we say “Of course that is wrong. We would never discriminate
against someone for being different.”

For these Christians, however, social class was a very big deal. Remember, many of
these people were poor, rejected from society, kicked out of home and synagogue.
To earn a rich man’s favor was important and could be the difference between life
and death in many cases. Maybe this rich man could help me out. Maybe this
wealthy ruler could help us build a building or something to that effect. There are
many reasons why someone like that would be exulted among these Christians.

Yet, what James is going to get at is that this type of behavior is the very opposite of
the Gospel. Remember, the point of James’ book is to remind these Christians what
their religion was actually supposed to be. This behavior is being stained by the
world because it goes against the very foundation of what it means to be the people
of God.

James’ Reasons
Now James makes his case very clear with a couple of reasons why this favoritism is
the antithesis to the Gospel.

1. First, listen to verse 5. “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen
those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom,
which he has promised to those who love him?
a. James’ first argument is a theological one, one of election. God chooses
the weak things of the world to confound the wise and mighty. This is
true both in the Old and the New Testaments!
i. Think back to the Old Testament to the people that God chose
to use. He chose Rahab, a harlot. He chose Ruth who was a
Moabite. Also think of some of the more obscure characters,
such as Ehud. When you have a chance, read Judges 3 and think
about the irony of Ehud being a left-handed man. In that
culture the left hand was unclean and was used to clean oneself
after using the bathroom. Yet, God uses a left-handed man (an
outcast in society) to kill the king of Moab in the bathroom of
all places!
ii. But the Gospel of the outcast is seen, even more clearly in the
New Testament. Jesus chooses disciples from fishermen and
tax collectors. Harlots and sinners worship him. Even his own
mother, whom we can call the BLESSED virgin Mary, was a
young virgin girl who birthed our Lord in a stable and laid him
in a manger.
b. The Gospel has always been about the poor, because as Jesus tells
Paul, “my grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in
weakness, for when you are weak, then I am strong” Favoritism
toward the mighty is not visiting the orphans and widows. It is being
stained by the world.

So, James’ first argument is a theological one on election, but

2. James’ second argument is one of common sense. Let’s read verses 6 and 7.
“But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who
oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones
who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?”
a. The point James is making is one of common sense. He’s asking a
direct question to them that hits the very heart of the reader. “Why
did you leave that world to become a Christian?” Wasn’t it because
you found hope in Jesus? If riches is what you wanted, you could have
stayed back there. But, instead to you chose to be different and to be
outcast yourselves. These are the people that are persecuting you!
Why would you bend over backwards for their favor?!
b. And this is an important point for us to think about and for the Church
of the United States to think about. If we have left the world behind for
something better, why would we even consider capitulating to that
thinking? True religion is DO help the poor, the needy, the weak and
DO NOT become stained by the world.

3. Finally, James appeals to the law itself. James says, starting in verse 8 (Read
8 – 13).
a. James’s is appealing to the law to show that it has always been about
inclusion and love, not favoritism and discrimination. Now James is
referring to Leviticus 19: 18 where is says “You shall love your
neighbor as yourself.” It also says in vs. 15 of the same chapter “You
shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or
defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.”

The law has always taught against discrimination. It has always taught
that the people of God are to treat others as neighbors. Yet, I wonder
if what James had in mind was not just a couple of lines from
Leviticus, but what he was getting at was a story that Jesus himself
told.

In Luke 10 Jesus has just exhorted a lawyer that if he would “love the
Lord his God with his whole being and his neighbor as himself, he
would inherit eternal life.” An interesting idea isn’t it? DO THIS – love
God whole heartedly and your neighbor indiscriminately - and you
will have eternal life. BUT, the lawyer felt condemned at just that and
sought to justify himself by asking “Who is my neighbor?” Maybe you
remember Jesus response. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan.

When a man was badly hurt on the road, when he had become weak
he was put off by the rich, the powerful and those who were thinking
on the world’s system of thought. It was the Samaritan, however, (the
outcast) who truly loved his neighbor. When Jesus finished his story,
he asked the laywer “Who do you think was the true neighbor?” the
Lawyer replied, “The one who showed mercy.” And that is exactly how
James finishes our passage today – Mercy triumphs over judgement.

The whole gospel, the good news that brings eternal life, the faith that
James wants to cultivate in these Christians is one that Jesus says will
bring eternal life. It is a faith that works. It is a faith DOES visit the
weak, it is a faith that DOES show mercy, it is a faith that DOES love
the poor man when he enters into your congregation.
James has not said anything that was not said by our Lord himself.
Love your neighbor as yourself.

In closing, it would be easy for us to walk away “unharmed” by such a passage. I


don’t think that there would ever be discrimination in our midst because of money. I
could be wrong, but I don’t think that’s the case. But, while James uses this poignant
example for his readers, he is talking about something more than just currency.
James is talking about value.

The truth is that we all have different perceptions about what is valuable. And, since
we are a close knit group of people, we often value the same things. But, what if
someone came in our doors who was poor in what we value?
 What it someone came in who knew nothing about homeschooling and their
children were in the public schools?
 What if someone came in our doors who knew nothing of Doug Wilson or
Peter Leithart?
 What about the unmarried people or even the young married with no
children who find themselves overwhelmed by all of the families?
 What if someone came in our doors who didn’t hold the same values as you
on food, or literature or music or liturgy?
 What if someone came in to our doors who was all for Obama’s healthcare
plan?

Are we ready to say that we can, do and will always love them as ourselves? We
have to be. Because, if we aren’t, we will never get this Gospel outside of those
doors. Rather, the world will find it’s way in and we will be stained.

I’m not saying that we have failed or are failing in this. Honestly, I don’t know. I only
know myself. But, Let us make sure that we are always helping visitors. Take some
time to ask if they are familiar with a liturgical worship service. Offer a helping hand
in explaining how it works.

Remember that we are a group of outcasts, poor, weak and needy. We come to this
table every week to be reminded of that. Let it always be said of Holy Trinity and of
the church of Greenville, that we are people who DO visit the orphans and widows in
their affliction and DO NOT allow ourselves to be stained by the world.

Let’s Pray.