Mercy not judgement (James 2)


Bible reading: James 2: 1-13

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby 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?

Listen, my dear brothers: 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 insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, Love your neighbour as yourself, you are doing right. But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as law-breakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

For he who said, Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder. If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a law-breaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

Do you know anyone who shoots straight from the hip? A person who doesn’t mince his or her words…

James is one such person… he gives it to us straight

THE BOOK OF JAMES has sparked a great deal of controversy down the years…

  • One of the most contentious points is its authorship… most now agree that James was the head of the Church in Jerusalem…
  • The other key talking point is that only once does James refer directly to the person of Christ… (more in a moment)
  • The letter was written to Christians about their conduct… it is not, and does not pretend to be, a doctrinal treatise

Do you have a brother or sister… or did you have one?

  • How do you/ did you treat one another?
  • How do you feel about one another?
  • Has there ever been sibling rivalry or envy or disagreement?
  • Is your brother or sister more talented than you or more capable?
  • Do you/did you stick together like glue… or come apart at the seams!

In case you get the (wrong) impression and think that James is a bit arrogant/bossy, look at verse 1:

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism

So what?” you might ask…

  • Well James was almost certainly the (half) brother of Jesus
  • But look how he refers to Him… “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ

Five words… our/glorious/Lord/Jesus/Christ

Our… We need not only to acknowledge Him for who He is but also to know Him personally through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit

  • A 2nd hand knowledge does not allow us to give testimony to His saving grace
  • It offers no guidance in our daily walk
  • It gives no assurance of eternal life

Glorious… Jesus Christ isn’t any old prophet or religious figure… the glory (honour, praise) belongs to Him

  • He is the One who has always existed and is Himself God
  • Through Him all things were made
  • He could have called 12 legions of angels to destroy the world and set Him free
  • But He chose to endure the Cross

Lord… He wants to be number one, not two or three…

  • We choose whether we serve Him… there is no compulsion
  • Yet He calls us his friends if we do what He commands
  • The truth is that although we call Him “Lord, Lord” we do not always do what He commands
  • One of the greatest challenges we face in life, day by day, is to make Jesus Christ the Lord of all
  • “Why do you call me ‘Lord’ yet not do what I command?”

Jesus… God became a man and lived among us…

  • Jesus was the carpenter of Nazareth…
  • He chose to be born of a virgin and accept the constraints of human flesh

Christ… He was and is also the Messiah…the Saviour… The one who saves His people from their sins

So James was anything but arrogant about the person of Jesus Christ!

The passage in James Chapter 2 APPEARS to be about what today we refer to as EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES… but there is a much more profound meaning attached to his words…

  • James uses a real example to express a vital spiritual principle

Two men enter the meeting, one is expensively dressed, the other is shabbily dressed

  • The well-dressed person is treated with civility and given the best seat in the house
  • The poorer man is treated as a second class citizen

Disgraceful! What an attitude!” we thunder indignantly! And yet I wonder if we are also capable of discriminating on the basis of … who knows what!

James has to remind his readers of 5 points:

  1. Discrimination on the basis of wealth is unacceptable… because God is the source everything we possess
  2. Worse than that, by adopting such an attitude we are judging one another… when only God is Judge
  3. God is looking for those who acknowledge their poverty and utter reliance on Him
  4. Those who have wealth usually want more! So even in the Church there were court cases with rich people attempting to extract money from the poorer people!
  5. Worse still, the wealthy people were “slandering” the Lord’s name

A rather “ordinary” couple won £101 million on the Lottery…

  • If they had come to your Church before they won, I wonder how they would have been treated?
  • If they came today, as multi-millionaires, I wonder hoour attitude would change!

James reminds his readers of what he refers to as “the royal law” (or ‘royal rule’)… to love your neighbour as yourself…

  • The greatest commands are to love the Lord your God… and your neighbour as yourself
  • It’s the guiding principle of Scripture

It does NOT sayLove the Lord your God and your wealthy, kind and generous neighbour as yourself… and despise the others

  • It says all… and love them as much as you love yourself… a real challenge for us…and only possible by means of the indwelling Spirit and our willingness to allow Him to have His way in our lives

Finally, James rails against those who say that they have kept nearly all the laws …

  • But he reminds us that to break one law is to fail completely

We need something more than keeping the law

All have sinned… but the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all unrighteousness

  • If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us

But the key verses in this passage are at the end… verses 12, 13:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

There are two “judgements” mentioned:

  1. Judgement by the law that gives freedom
  2. Judgement without mercy (Mercy = undeserved favour)

James drives home the point that believers are judged from a different standpoint …

  • We can receive mercy and therefore be free from the law of sin and death
  • The alternative is to be judged without mercy…not a pleasant prospect

Crucially, judgement without mercy is towards those who fail to show mercy to others … a key point

  • So in Zechariah chapter 7: 9, 10…

This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’

But thankfully the reverse is also true…

God has mercy on those who show mercy to others

As Jesus taught in Matthew 5: 7…

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

On whom does God have mercy? Answer = “the merciful

This passage from James is about justice and fairness but it also helps us to understand that our thoughts, attitude and actions towards others actively affect God’s thoughts, attitude and actions towards us

Whatever else might be said about the Book of James, it is one that has direct relevance to Christians today…

  • In a world where the truths of Scripture have been mauled by the grubby paws of secularists and cynics, James brings us back to the eternal truth of God and its impact upon our lives
  • He might be straight talking… but perhaps a bit more preaching with authority of that kind would do us all a great deal of good

Freedom in Christ is not freedom to do what we want without regard to God’s law… but rather the freedom to choose God’s way for our lives… or not!


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