James – Favoritism

What is your favorite food, or your favorite color?  Do you have a favorite TV show or movie?  What is your favorite bible verse or what is your favorite story?  Do you have a best friend?

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.

-James 2:1 (NIV), emphasis added

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I read this as a small child after someone had told me it was a sin to have favorites.  I couldn’t believe I was supposed to love chocolate cake and broccoli the same.  I feared living in the sin of having favorites.  As I grew older I realized having a favorite food wasn’t the favorite James is talking about.

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James 2:2-4 (NIV), emphasis added

We are discriminating when we show favoritism towards certain types of people.  We are to not withhold or give glory, love, affection, hospitality, friendship, mercy, kindness, or service to people based upon their external appearance.  You can discriminate based on age, race, gender, where someone lives, what they wear, how much money they have, their hairstyle, etc.  We are not to treat only certain people as Jesus would treat them, we are to treat all people like Jesus would treat them.  James is telling us here that showing favoritism, judging someone based on outward appearances, treating someone different from others, is a sin.  He is telling us that it does not matter what a person looks like or where they come from or what they have. We are not to play favorites!

When you show favoritism, when you discriminate, you show that you do not fully understand God’s grace.  You dishonor God and you reveal you do not understand the gospel.  It does not matter what you look like, what you have or what you have done. God extends His grace to us through His Son, Jesus and promises us the riches of His kingdom to those who love Him.

When you show favorites you deny the gospel truths. You suggest something different about the God you claim to love, serve and follow. God does not play favorites. The grace of God is available to everyone!  We are all sinners and we all need God’s grace to save us.  The beautiful thing is that God does not play favorites. No matter what age, race, or gender we are, or where we live or what we wear or how much money we have, God extends His grace to all of us!

We all are sinners and we all need Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Nothing we do, nothing we say, nothing we have will get us to heaven. Because we all sin, we are separated from God and we need His grace to be saved.  Once you realize that, once you understand that without God’s grace we are dead, you begin to extend that same grace to those around you, because you know that God’s grace is for everyone.  No matter what they look like, what they wear, how old they are, how much money they have, where they come from, God does not care. He wants to save us all.

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life

-John 3:16 (NIV), emphasis added

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes

-Romans 1:16a (NIV), emphasis added

Jesus came to die for all, not just you, but everyone at work, everyone at your school, in your family, everyone you see and don’t see, EVERYONE.  And we need to stop treating people like God does not love them.

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

-James 2:5-7 (NIV), emphasis added

Why would these people want to favor those who were mistreating them?!  They are dragging them to court, exploiting them, talking bad about the God they serve!  So why would they honor them? For the money?! When I read this, I could not believe that someone want to be around his abusers and treat them as if they had done no wrong.  And then I realized we do the same thing. I did it for years!

I had a best friend my senior year of high school whom I loved with all that I had.  We would go to the movies together, have sleepovers and go shopping, we’d buy each other gifts.  I cried tears of joy upon seeing her when we were reunited after I had spend the summer away.  We even had cutesy nicknames for each other. She was very popular and no one popular had ever wanted to hang out with me. I loved being her friend.

She would ask me to lie for her. She did not want her parents knowing she smoked. She would lie to me. And not just about little things. She told other people lies about me.  I had a feeling she was not being honest with me and telling lies about me, but I stayed her friend. Because I was so desperate for a best friend, a bestie, to be popular and to not be labeled as the nerd anymore. I was so desperate for someone besides family to love me, that I stayed friends with this abusive girl.

James accuses us in the middle of this text of doing what I did. He tells us, “You so want to be loved by the world, you so want to be accepted by the world, you want to be labeled as cool and popular and wanted, you want to be applauded by them, you want to be seen as normal and so you dishonor your eternal brother and cozy up and cuddle up next to those who belittle the name of your God, who mock you, and who make life difficult for you.”

I see this in everyday life.  Self-proclaimed Christians hanging out and snuggling up to the very same people who mistreat them every chance they get, and for what? Popularity? Love? Acceptance? Money? Friendship? Respect? Why put those people on a pedestal? They do not deserve it. Why put yourself through that pain? Stop pushing God away by honoring those who do not deserve it and start opening your heart to God’s love, start loving.

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.

-James 2:8 (NIV), emphasis added

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Keep the royal law, the law of God and that law is love. It is founded upon God’s love for us!  Jesus came to this earth, humbled himself by becoming a human, and serving those around him, and He gave up his life for us so that we can become sons and daughters of God.  And until you fully understand what God has done for you, you cannot truly live as we are called to live: Love God and love people!  That is the whole bible: Love God and love people!

Keep the royal law, the law of God and that law is love. It is founded upon God’s love for us!  Jesus came to this earth, humbled himself by becoming a human, and serving those around him, and He gave up his life for us so that we can become sons and daughters of God.  And until you fully understand what God has done for you, you cannot truly live as we are called to live: Love God and love people!  That is the whole bible: Love God and love people!

“The most important one [the most important law/commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

-Mark 12:29-31 (NIV), emphasis added

What James is writing, what is happening in the church, is that there are those who are deceived by whether or not they’re a Christian and they are actually not fulfilling either one of these obligations. They are not serious about loving the Lord and they definitely are not serious about loving their neighbor. So what is happening is that the name of Christ is being soiled.

Everything rests on those two commandments.  Love!

Do you love God more than anything else in life? Do you love your neighbor? I do not just mean the person living next to you.  What about those at church or at the grocery store? Do you love all of them?  Do you treat them the same as your family and friends? Are you playing favorites, discriminating, and not loving people? If you do not love people, you show that you do not love God.  I do not want you guys to be deceived. I want you to know that if you do not do what the word of God says, if you do not love God with all that you are, and in turn, love everyone around you, everyone you come in contact with, you are showing everyone, including yourself, you are not saved.

But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

-James 2:9-11 (NIV), emphasis added

So whether you lie or swear or murder or show favoritism, you have broken the law and are considered a lawbreaker, a sinner. If you commit one sin, you are a sinner.  That’s how it works in the eyes of God.  He does not play favorites with people. You are a sinner no matter what sin you commit, and every sin, no matter how big or little you think it is, separates you from God.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom

-James 2:12 (NIV)

This goes hand in hand with what I wrote last week in James – Do What It Says.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

-James 1:22 (NIV), emphasis added

James says the church needs to be quick to hear and do what the Lord Jesus has said. If we hear the Word of the Lord and do not do what it says, it reveals we might not have truly been saved. So if you are reading this, or your bible, and think, “I do not care, I will play favorites if I want” then you might not be saved.  But if you are reading this and are thinking, “Man, I’ve been doing it wrong.  God wants me to treat everyone as He would treat them,” that is good! If you hear the Word of God and want to make a change, want to become more like him, then you are a Christ follower.

You do not have to be perfect to be a Christ follower. I’m saying that if you do not have a desire change and you do not try to change, that equates to being a nonbeliever. If you say you are saved and do not make a change you are not a Christian.  We need to wrestle with our sinful selves and we need to work on changing. But as long as you think you’re saved when everything you say and do is says you’re not, you are not saved.

because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

-James 2:13 (NIV), emphasis added

God will judge all of us, and if you do not show mercy, God will not show you mercy.

Okay, this one is hard.  You need to know that faith without mercy towards others is not genuine faith. Faith without mercy towards others is not genuine faith.

It is not really faith. So if you’re saying, “I have faith. I trust in Jesus. I trust in His forgiveness. I trust in His mercy,” and yet you refuse to extend that to anyone else, that reveals something is broken in your heart and you do not understand;  you don’t understand Jesus, you don’t understand what it means to be a Christ follower.

We have to fight against the urge to pick favorites. I have to, our pastors have to, everyone has to! And we have to fight the urge by laying our urges before the Lord. We need to confess, seek help, and ask the Lord to work on us. So I’m not saying you need to be perfect or there is no genuine faith; I’m saying you need to wrestle with the sin in your life or there is no genuine faith.  You need to be praying about where you are struggling and ask God to work in you!

So here is the command. Mercy triumphs over judgment. So remember the mercy that was shown to you. Remember where you were when Christ found you. Remember he rescued you, remember he ransomed you, and in your remembrance of God’s forgiving grace and mercy, extend it to others.

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James – Do What it Says

Have you ever seen anyone fly off the handle over something small and insignificant? Have you ever flown off the handle? Have you ever raised your voice without thinking, gotten mad over something silly, said something you regret? Maybe it was during rush hour as you are racing to get home and someone cuts you off or you said something to your kids or spouse in a moment of anger that you can’t take back.  I see it in my own church. It’s those claiming to be Christ followers and acting out in anger. There is anger and ungodly speech running rampant and I fear that those actions are revealing that their faith in Jesus is not genuine.

I want to use James to help bring us back from our anger and into the loving arms of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

-James 1:19-21 (NIV), emphasis added

There are two types of anger I have seen.  The first is the quick outbursts and fits of anger. This is similar to what you might see a preschooler doing when he doesn’t get his way.  It might seem weird to have an adult act this way, but I have seen it.  At first it’s funny and then it’s embarrassing and sad.

The second type is a deep-seated anger, anger that come from your heart that creates the outbursts.  Sometimes it comes out violently and others it is a passive anger.

We all get angry at one point or another.  It’s human nature.  Some only get angry on occasion and some are angry all the time and allow their anger to control them.  Even if you are an angry person, even if you have anger in your heart, God still loves you!  And because He loves you he wants to heal your heart from that anger.

because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

-James 1:20-21 (NIV), emphasis added

James gets to the heart of the problem and begins to fix it at its source.   He doesn’t tell us to count to 10, take deep breaths, which I am not saying don’t work.  But there is a faster, better way to fix our human anger.

The issue is that our anger is human anger, not Godly and so our anger does not make us righteous in the eyes of God.  We are angry, and we end up speaking in a way that is ungodly.  And the best way to get rid our hearts of human anger is to get rid of all moral filth and evil in our lives and accept God’s Word, which can save you.  The Word can save us from our anger and the sin that is keeping us from God.

18But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart.

-Matthew 15:18 (NIV), emphasis added

If God’s Word isn’t in your heart, if you aren’t reading your bible and talking with God daily, hourly, every second, then the things you are saying and doing will reflect that. When I focus on God, I notice a difference in my life and so do those around me.  I am a kinder, gentler person.  So how do we control our anger?

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

-James 1:21 (NIV)

Get rid of all moral filth: turn away from your sin and dig into God’s word.  Learn how God wants you to live.  I can hear some you now: “I already go to church listen to God’s Word. I’m good, my anger is going to get better because I listen to a sermon once a week.  I get my Jesus in on Sunday.” Get this: Just reading God’s word and going to church is NOT enough.  Going to church once a week doesn’t make you a Christian and will NOT help you with your anger.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

-James 1:22 (NIV), emphasis added

There are people in church, people claiming to be Christians, who are not sure whether or not they have genuine faith.  There are people who think they’re living a life that is pleasing to God, who think they are in right standing with God, but they’re not. They think they are right with God because they go to church and hear the Word of God.

There are people going to church every week, saying they agree with what is being taught, AMEN, they nod along and sing the songs, but when they walk out the doors they live a life that does not reflect what they have just agreed with in church.  They do not DO what the Word says.  They don’t show love to other, only hate; they swear at each other and get violent over the littlest things; what comes out of their mouths is filthy and wicked and if my mom heard me say those things, I’d get my mouth washed out with soap.

So what happens if we are one of those people?  What if we go to church and hear God’s Word, but we don’t do what it says?  Then your life isn’t built upon the rock that is Jesus.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice, is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

-Matthew 7:24-27 (NIV), emphasis added

When we only listen to God’s word, Sunday after Sunday, and we do not put it in to practice and begin to change our lives, the life we built will come crashing down. But when you do what the Word says and not just listen to it, you can stand firm on the rock that is Jesus and you will be blessed in what you do.

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

-James 1:23-25 (NIV), emphasis added

Imagine you look at your reflection in the mirror and you turn away and immediately forget if you have dark or light hair, the position of your nose and eyes, you forget whether you put on your makeup.  Pretty silly of you to forget what you look like.  If someone tells you not to touch a hot stove and you nod your head and listen, but you don’t do what they said you will get burned when you touch the stove.

You go to church and hear the Word, you nod along and listen to what is said,  check “Go to Church” off your weekly “Christian Checklist”, then you leave, you go home, to school, wherever, and you forget what you are taught, you don’t do what God’s Word tells you to do, you completely ignore God’s Word.  Does that sound like a Christ follower to you?

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

-James 1:26 (NIV), emphasis added

I am concerned. I see how those around me, those claiming to know Christ, speak out of an angry heart, they yell and swear, they hear what is taught and they ignore it! And I don’t even know if they are Christians. I don’t care how many of the songs you have memorized or how much of the Scripture you’ve hidden in your heart or how many Sundays you go to church, if you’re speaking like this to people who are brothers and sisters or even enemies, you may not be a Christian.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

-James 1:27 (NIV), emphasis added

The kind of faith that pleases God is the faith that is bearing the fruit of love. Love for our neighbors, for those around us in need; love and devotion to God, this is real faith. This is being a Christian.

Are you a Christian? Think about you…not your parents, not your friend, not your spouse or your kids. I’m talking about you. Are you a Christian? Are you one who has humbly received the gospel, the Word of Truth, about Christ? If the answer to that question is no, what’s keeping you even today from receiving Him? What’s the hurdle? I invite you, I encourage you, believe in Christ. He loves you. This good God, this perfect God, has made a way for you to be loved by Him and to become His son or daughter. He did it by making His only Son an enemy so you who are an enemy of God right now could become His son or daughter.

If you answered, “Yes, I’m a Christian,” is this evident in your life? Would other godly people affirm that about you? Are you even willing to ask them? Does your daily life, professing Christ, align with your profession of faith? Are you a doer of the Word when you leave church on Sundays? Would people in your family, your friends, even those at church actually be surprised to learn you’re a Christian? If you told them you were a Christian, would they be surprised? Is there any chance that you’re self-deceived about what your relationship with God is? Any chance that you might be the one who looks in the mirror and walks away and forgets what you see?

Where are you today?  Are you a Christ follower or have you been lying to yourself and God?

James – Trials, Maturity, and Wisdom

I recently taught a six week series on James to our youth group.  I ended up learning so much from God while preparing for these lessons that I thought I would share them with you, plus maybe add a few more. But, before I get started, I want to tell you a little about James himself.

James was the half-brother of Jesus so he would have grown up under Jesus’s shadow. Can you imagine being Jesus’s little brother? “Jesus never gave me this much trouble, James. Why can’t you be more like your brother Jesus?” And on and on. That would be a tough life growing up. Even if you were never compared to your perfect older brother, I think it would be in the back of your mind, “They love Jesus more than me because he’s the perfect child. They never tell Jesus he has to clean his room.” Maybe this is why James didn’t become a Christ follower until after Jesus’s death and resurrection. Honestly, that’s the way to go. If you are the Son of God, God in human form, and your family doesn’t believe you, die and come back to life.  There’s no denying it then.

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Ok, all joking aside, James really was Jesus’s half-brother and he really didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God until after He died and was resurrected. But when he finally had that light bulb moment, it stuck.  And from his walk with Christ (literally, he walked with Jesus, it was just before he believed Jesus was God) came, in my opinion, one of the most informative books of the bible.  He wrote this letter to Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. It’s only five chapters long, but it is packed with some awesome words to live by.  Don’t just read James, apply these words to your life.

Alright let’s dive in to James chapter 1.  We will be studying this chapter for at least the first two posts.

Consider it pure joy, my brother, whenever you face trials of many kinds

-James 1:2 (NIV), emphasis added

I think that there is a common misconception that once you become a Christian that all of your problems will be solved, nothing bad is going to happen to you, you will never face another challenging day in your life.  It’s not true.  We all will have trials in this life, Christians and non-Christians alike. James tells us in verse 2 WHENEVER you face trials, not if you face trials, meaning we will all have trials in this life.

Some of us have trials on the horizon, a storm in our future. Some just finished a trial and you are breathing a sigh of relief.  The rest are going through the trial right now. Divorce, death, financials issues, depression, illness, job loss; the list could go on forever.  You’re in the eye of the storm and you’re tired, weary, downtrodden, and ready to give up on life.  Before you give up all hope, keep reading James.

Consider it pure joy, my brother, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

‭‭-James‬ ‭1:2-5‬ ‭(NIV)‬‬

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James tells us why we go through trials as Christians and that there are two main reasons why God allows us to go through trials.

1. Trials are the pathway maturity (verse 4).

Think about how you matured from a child to a teenager to an adult (if you’ve made it that at far). When you leaned to walk you fell many times before taking those first, uneasy steps. Growing and maturing isn’t easy, it’s painful.  You grow by failing, by scraping your knees, by thinking you know everything just to learn you know nothing.  It’s how all of us mature, and if we don’t learn the lesson the first time, we will fail again.

We mature the same way spiritually.  We fail, we fall, we scrape our knees.  We think we know everything about God one to find out we were wrong. The trials God allows us to go through lead us to spiritually maturity, and just like with growing up, if you don’t learn the lesson the first time, God will allow you to go through the same trial again and again, until you learn the lesson.

There are several reasons God has allowed me to go through trials:

  • Purify my faith
  • Teach me patience
  • To make me more like Jesus
  • To grow and glorify God

This is only a few ways we mature when God allows us to go through trial.

The second reason God allows us to go through trials:

2. Trials help us grow in wisdom (verse 5).

When your life is at it’s best, when everything is going great, the sun is shining you have a song on your lips, how do you act towards God?  I be most of you have the same issue I have; when life is good you don’t have your heart and mind set on God.  You begin to think you know best and that you know how to go about life, what path to take.  It’s not until you start going through a tough trial do you begin to see that you truly need God.  When things start to go wrong we tend to ask God why, “Why God, why is this happening?” When you start to ask why, you begin to cling to God and he wants you to ask for wisdom and for His guidance, not your own.

As trials come we should submit to God and say, “I don’t understand why, but I know God is allowing this to mature me and give me wisdom.  He is trying to form me more and more into the image of Jesus.  I will pray and cling to God.  I will ask for His guidance and His wisdom to get me through this storm. It’s not what I want, but God, you know that this is what I need.”

James has told us that we will go through trials and why God allows us to go through trials.  James also tell us what we should do as we go through trials.

Consider it pure joy, my brother, whenever you face trials of many kinds

-James 1:2 (NIV), emphasis added

We are to have joy in our trials.  James didn’t say joy FOR our trials, no we are supposed to have joy IN our trials.  You don’t have to be happy about the trial you are facing, “YAY, my car broke down,” “YIPPEE, I lost my job.” No!  James is telling us that whatever we are going through, we have joy, and that joy is because God is still God, He is our God and, get this…HE IS GOOD!  God can take the bad, the hurt, the pain, and make something beautiful out of it.  In our trials we just need to keep our focus on God, trust that he is in control, trust He has a purpose for our trial, and be joyful that GOD IS OUR GOD!

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

-James 1:17-18 (NIV)

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Everything good we have comes from God! Even the good that come from going through a trial. He doesn’t change, but He wants us to become more like Jesus so He allows us go to through the fire to be refined; to become more like Christ, because He loves us.  And because God loves us, He has given us new life through His Son Jesus.  After we have accepted Him as Lord and Savior, He lets us go through trials so we can grow and mature and become more like and closer to Him.  But He doesn’t let us go through them alone, He is with us, helping to shape us. When we are going through a trial in our lives, we need to cling to God and ask for the wisdom to understand why God is allowing it, to understand how God is wanting us to mature through the trial.  And we should be joyful, not because of the trial, but because God is God, He is good, He has given you new life through his Son Jesus and He loves you enough to help you grow and mature spiritually.

Lord,

Give us the wisdom to understand why we are going through trials.  Help us to remember through those trials, that you are still God, you are good, and we have a reason to be joyful in the trial.  Help us to remember that, because you love us, you want us to grow and mature spiritually.

Amen