Stop having faith that shows partiality. That’s the message of James 2:1. This is a powerful text to help us think about prejudice, but let’s dig beneath it and see the reasons he brings it up. One might think that James suddenly changed topics from the previous chapter, but he didn’t. This teaching about partiality is an illustration of a deeper concept. It is all about developing and growing in the faith.
One important, underlying point about faith here is that he is talking about behavior, not belief. Obviously the behavior stems from the belief, but the emphasis is on the selective expression of faith mentioned in James 1:27.
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
Remember that the expression of faith in that verse relates to the growth and development of faith. There is no expression of faith without it first developing and growing. This section illustrates how we know if we are growing it.
When we begin to build a lifestyle that leads to life instead of death, we start acting upon what the Bible teaches us to do. This is the proactive way to develop joyous circumstances. It is the path of joy, the path of the blessings of God. In developing and growing those activities related to what God teaches us (specifically that we should love others more than ourselves), James cautions us to pay attention to how that faith develops.
Why is it so important that we are careful about how faith develops?
Consider the Illustration
It is easy to get our priorities out of alignment. In James 1:27 we read of the widows and orphans that should be helped. Then he transitions to discussing the poor. These, like widows and orphans, are also needy people. They have little influence; therefore, the way we treat them says a lot about how our faith is developing.
It is easy to love someone who can potentially “love” us back. It is easy to treat people well who treat us well. What about those who have nothing to offer us? Here we find our true motives. Are we acting out our lives in response to the teachings of God and building faith in His word? Or are we merely taking advantage of situations to try to find blessings from them? To help his readers see this, he further explained the problem.
The poor can be rich in faith. If we look at someone as “poor” and judge them based on their finances and not their faith, are we really thinking of spiritual things? Are we growing the way God intends? Are we glorying in the right things?
At the same time. If we are catering to the rich and treating them as honored guests when they are actually reprobates who curse God at every turn, are we truly developing faith in God and spiritual growth? Are we seeking or glorying in the right things?
Isn’t that pandering to what we think will benefit us most instead of building a life based on God’s directions for life?
The Underlying Principle
Look again at the development of faith and life in the previous chapter. When we see a need that we have and find fulfillment in the way God intended, that is the growth of life within. That is what faith is all about. That is “pure and undefiled religion”. The example related to widows and orphans illustrates this. We have the spiritual need to connect with others. [By “connection” we might also say “emotional intimacy”.] This is one of many motives and needs we have within us.
In order to fulfill that need for connection, we might seek out company with people that we ought not. On business trips when a spouse is away from the connections he or she always has, the temptation might come to find alternative connections with people, and it may lead to all kinds of sinful activities. Teens (or adults for that matter), who have not developed social skills in making friends, might turn to pornography to replace the feelings of connection and spiritual intimacy we were designed to need. Instead of finding friends to hang out with and connect with, the conception of sin occurs and they are fooled into thinking they found an easy way to fulfillment.
Or maybe people have had a few too many heartbreaks and instead of reaching out to make connections, they drown their needs in alcohol.
Sin is easy when we do not understand our desires and how to fulfill our needs properly.
We might, instead, turn to other things that are not sinful. If we are so inclined, we can choose to fulfill our need to connect and feel love by replacing those connections with something that does not fulfill us. We might try to find fulfillment by eating more, or playing games on our phones, or working longer hours. This is not necessarily sinful behavior, but it is certainly no way to a fulfilling life. And it can lead to depression, and perhaps the pathway to sin. It usually leads to finding new and different distractions instead of dealing with the root issue.
All of that can be avoided by taking in the Scriptures and letting God’s word guide us on fulfilling our needs. When Psalm 23 depicts the Lord leading us beside still waters, this is exactly what it is talking about. God can fulfill your needs. He created you with those needs so that He would be the one to fulfill them. Think about that for a while.
The Most Important Part of Living
As it turns out, when we grow in our ability to understand and perform godly love, our needs are met automatically. We need to “fulfill the royal law”, which is, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8). That is why Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Paul said that “love is the fulfillment of the law” in Romans 13:10. It perfectly sums up how we are to live. And as long as we allow God to define what love is, we will develop properly as we pursue it.
By thinking through it in this way, I have identified three stages of personal spiritual development. Did you notice them too? I’ll share them here to help clarify the point.
Stage 1: The development of death.
Spiritual death comes as we use our own wisdom and the wisdom of this world to try to fulfill our needs. We are looking for shortcuts and solutions without regard for what is right and wrong, as long as we can get away with it. As bad as that may sound, it is exactly how the world operates. Desire conceives and begets sin. And sin brings forth death.
Stage 2: The avoidance of sin.
Most of us learn from an early age that right and wrong exist. We learn that if we fulfill our needs in the wrong way, we can get into a lot of trouble. Here is where most people think in terms of religion. Religious observance has always helped people learn to keep from the sins of society, to some degree. Throughout history, rulers found ways to use religion to help them rule. The legal system of governments also helps with that, as do family units. The problem in this stage is that we often confuse “righteousness” with “the absence of sin”. Sure, sin has to go away, but that is not all there is to righteousness. There is another major problem with this way of life: It is like chasing the wind. It does not satisfy in the end. That is why religious people can still be caught up in so many sinful deeds–when the “religion” stops fulfilling, they go back to previous habits.
Stage 3: The inclusion of faith.
This is where we turn from doing sin and chasing wind and start living life according to what the Bible specifically teaches us. Romans 10:17 must fit here. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” This is where we begin to see what life is truly about.
James’ message is that we need to hear God’s word and practice living it if we want to find fulfillment and joy in our circumstances.
That’s a challenge! Think for a minute what it means to live by the Word.
- We must study and apply it regularly.
- We must not assume our ideas align with it.
- We must critically examine ourselves.
- We must think clearly about what love means and how to apply it in the way God has outlined for us.
- We better be sure that everything we do is done in the name of Jesus.
- We must look to Him and determine how to act and react in life.
James wonderfully illustrates these thoughts in James 2:1-13. If we are TRULY living in love for others, we will not treat people differently based on what they can possibly do for us. We are to determine how people are to be treated by looking to Jesus and asking, “What does it mean to love my neighbor?” And, “Who is my neighbor that I should love?” Thankfully, those questions are answered for us in the Scriptures.
We can build a life that is full of genuine faith. It is the most fulfilling way to live because it is how we were DESIGNED to live.
All of the thoughts presented here build to this one: We can test our faith by examining our actions in the ight of the Bible.
We can easily fool ourselves into thinking that we are living in righteousness and love, but the way we treat others will reveal all.
See you tomorrow!