James 2:1-13—Defenders Needed

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“Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting his own hard battle.” This quote has been credited to everyone from Ian MacLaren to Plato. No matter who first said it, it’s wise. Each of us has our own circumstances and struggles that have brought us to where we are today. They’re part of who we are.

I remember my grandma’s caution, “Everybody has a story.” It’s true, yet we usually make determinations, assign values, judge people, without knowing their stories. We’d all benefit from fewer prosecutors and judges, and more defenders.

Today’s study in James 2 focuses on the harm done by shallow judgments. Welcome to James: Faith Meets Reality. Get your Bible and let’s get going!

Read James 2:1-13—then read it again, paying special attention to what James says about the judgments we make.

No favorites

James directs his first comments to Christians who are influenced by others’ wealth and social standing—or lack of.

Jewish culture—most of James’ readers were Jews who had become Christians—was very swayed by one’s position and possessions. Every facet of their lives was affected. Their courts had adopted pagan prejudices, favoring the rich who could initiate legal action against social inferiors but not vice versa (though such injustice went against the Old Testament Law). A rich man convicted of crime could expect a light sentence while a poor man convicted of the same crime would suffer a much heavier penalty. The rich were welcome in every social stratum, the poor were shunned. This bias had made its way into the church with tragic results.

Still today, we tend to be attracted to obvious wealth and put off by obvious poverty. The rich person who impresses us may slight us, yet we fall all over ourselves trying to please her while ignoring the person less able to benefit us (what James exposes as our “evil motives” in verse 4). All the while, we may be missing great models of spiritual wealth from the poor (vs. 5).

There’s an important word in verse 2 we shouldn’t miss. In referencing the poor, James uses the Greek word rhupos. Various versions translate it “shabby, dirty, filthy, or vile.” Rhuparia can mean moral filth or physical filth. (Check out another use of it in James 1:21.) Used here in connection with clothing, it seems to mean the latter. James is describing a person who is not pleasant to be around. A person who requires some effort. A person God expects us to welcome, to learn her story, to love.

If an immaculately dressed woman with manicured nails and a designer purse comes into your assembly, how do you react? Do you welcome her, sit with her, introduce her to your friends? If a dirty woman comes into your assembly—maybe one who has body odor, greasy hair, or who reeks of alcohol—how do you react? Do you welcome her, sit with her, introduce her to your friends? If you would treat the second differently from the first, beware.

James says playing favorites dishonors Christ, who died for all people. “If you show partiality, you are committing sin,” says verse 9. What does God want us to do? Pray for eyes to see each person as equally valuable to Him—no matter the style of her dress, the balance in her bank account, or the prestige of her address. Then resolve to learn each person’s story without judging.

Generous mercy

The best way to stop judgmentalism in its tracks is to recall the mercy God has shown us. We all have a story—a story of forgiveness and grace in Christ Jesus. We’ve all had our filthy rags replaced by His righteousness (Galatians 3:26-27). When we, who have known such mercy, fail to be merciful, we grieve God. In fact James declares, “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)

Listen to what God asks of us:

“…As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other… Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

We show God-like mercy when we:
• accept people as they are without judging, and allow God to do His transforming work in their lives just as He continues to do in ours.
• patiently discover each person’s story, without judging.
• resist the temptation to “share” other’s stories, betraying their trust. No matter how you whitewash it, such talk is gossip—and it’s sin. Keep your mouth shut; just listen, love and pray, without judging.
• are appropriately transparent about our own stories, flaws included. We don’t need to include the gory details for a listener to understand that we have had our struggles too, and that God has shown us mercy without judging.
• defend others—whether they’re present or not—when their situation is the focus of others’ gossip. It’s not enough to keep quiet, not participating; rise to the victim’s defense. Be their advocate, without judging.

God has graciously come to our rescue as our Defender and Savior. Christianity has far too many judges. Will we, like God, be defenders?

This Week…

• Commit James 2:13 to memory. If you’ve been memorizing each week’s suggested verses you will have learned six of James’ 108 verses, fueling your mind with the power of God’s truth. You can do it!
• Pray for God to open your eyes to someone who needs His love. Then, without judgment and with mercy, venture out to befriend that person. Learn her story. Share with her your story. God may use you to change a life.
• In preparation for next week read James 2:14-26. Write a definition of “faith” and “works/deeds” based on what you read.

This is the fourth post in this series; check the archives if you’ve missed any. Just click on “Bible Study Series” on the menu bar above. If you’d like to receive notice of each week’s post, enter your email address at right to subscribe.

© Diane McLoud 2015

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