Sermon: Performance or Mercy? - James 2

We are naturally drawn toward those that are either similar to us or that we believe might do us some good. Jesus seems to have a different heart.

Sermon series: Pressure Points

  1. When You Suffer - James 1
  2. The Lure of Sin - James 1
  3. Performance or Mercy? - James 2
  4. The Power of Words - James 3
  5. Why We Fight - James 4
  6. Retaliation or Rescue? - James 5

To be used with: Session Three, The Pressure of Partiality
Alternate title: Who's Your Favorite Christian?
Scriptures: James 2:1-13

Connection to unit theme

We are naturally drawn toward those that are either similar to us or that we believe might do us some good. Even in Christian circles we seem to rejoice more - as if our cause will strengthen - when a celebrity becomes a Christian than when a poor widow does. Jesus seems to have a different heart.

Introduction

D.A. Carson asks a few probing questions:

Our drive to place Christian celebrities on a pedestal is nothing less than the partiality that James decries in his second chapter. Our preferential treatment of those that we believe can benefit our cause is opposed to the cross-centered faith that we proclaim. In James 2:1-13 we are told not to show preferential treatment. This is no minor exhortation. It is at the heart of the gospel. There are three reasons why we are to not show partiality.

I. Partiality is inconsistent with God's redemption

The word for partiality is one that combines two Greek words, one meaning "to accept"and the other meaning "judge according to one's face". Showing partiality then has to do with giving someone preferential treatment based upon their status within society.

A. The example of the rich and the poor (v1-3)

B. God pursues the unworthy and give them His riches

  • God rescues those with nothing to give
  • God's riches are what make one truly rich (v5)

C. Those that we assume will benefit us often do the opposite

  • We not only usurp God's authority to judge but show ourselves to be miserable judges of what truly matters (v4)
  • Rather than helping the cause of the gospel those who are highly esteemed by the world are the ones that oppress them and blaspheme Christ (vv. 6-7)

It is our natural bent to assume that man gives things to God instead of the other way around. Therefore, it is no big leap for us to assume that those who have the most to give are the ones that are most pleasing to God. God's pattern of redemption seems to be the opposite. Rather than helping those who help themselves, God seems bent towards helping those that have nothing to offer. We must reflect Him in this.

II. Partiality is inconsistent with God's law

Likely "royal law" is a reference to the "Torah as fulfilled and expanded by Christ."* Those that have been redeemed by Christ will be inclined to follow after the heart of Christ. The summary of this is to "love your neighbor as yourself".

A. Discrimination breaks the Old Testament law

  • "The entire law" is likely a reference to the OT law
  • Showing favoritism is willfully breaking the law of God
  • Breaking one point in the Law makes on a law-breaker guilty of all

B. Discrimination breaks the law of Christ

  • The "law of freedom" is likely a reference to the law of Christ (similar to the royal law of verse 8)
  • Believers must act and speak according to the freedom that Christ has purchased for them. Discrimination would be inconsistent with the speech and action that define this "law of freedom"

III. Partiality is inconsistent with God's mercy

The activity of those who discriminate is judging upon outward appearances and what people have, it is the exact opposite of showing mercy. Judging according to mercy reflects a heart changed by the gospel. Judging according to performance reflects a heart that knows little of mercy.

A. The cure for our discriminatory hearts is to plunge deep into the mercy of God

B. The mercy of God triumphs over naturally judgmental hearts

C. Those that are redeemed must live consistent with the mercy they've been shown

Conclusion

John Newton once said, "Let us not measure men, much less ourselves, by gifts or services. One grain of grace is worth abundance of gifts." James would agree. Do you measure others by grace or by performance? The answer for our judgmental hearts is to become enamored by the mercy that we have received. This is also the answer to hearts that want to pedestal certain believers. The gospel levels. May we measure ourselves by Christ and not performance!

* Craig Blomberg. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 116

Mike Leake is the husband of Nikki, father of Isaiah and Hannah, as well as the associate pastor at First Baptist Church, Jasper, Indiana. He frequently writes at SBC Voices and his personal blog, mikeleake.net. He is also slowly working toward completing his Master's of Divinity degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.