(James 2:1-13)

Vending machines have come a long way since we were kids. It used to be you slid in a couple of coins and pulled a lever, and down would drop your snack or drink. Now there are lights, levers, cranes, codes, and chutes that make the purchase a production of its own. But one of the greatest advances in vending machine technology was the ability of the machine to accept bills rather than just coins. Especially as prices increased, it came as a relief not having to search the car seats for that extra quarter – now you just slide in a dollar bill or two, and you’re ready to snack. That is unless your dollar bill is rejected!

What a terrible feeling. You watch your dollar get sucked into the machine, and then it spits it back at you. You check the little picture to make sure George’s head is facing the right way and try again. If you’re rejected again, you do that little ritual that you saw some other guy do – you take the bill and rub it on a corner, trying to take out any possible crease in the bill. You unfold any turned-up corners and hope you’re bill is good enough. If you still find your bill rejected, you’re now ready to take the machine on – that’s why they put those machines behind metal bars!! “What’s the deal,” you think. A dollar is a dollar, after all, (whether) it’s fresh out of the mint or if it’s been folded, wadded, washed, and taped. Why should this machine accept a good-looking bill but reject an old, worn-out one? A clean, fresh bill is of no more value than a worn-out one.

As much as we don’t want to admit it, we are so much like those dastardly vending machines. We tend to be more accepting of people who have it all together and tend to be less-than-accepting of people who have been folded,

wadded, washed, and taped. People who have been through the ringer often find themselves spit out by many of us who prefer to accept only the pristine.

So, let us take a good hard look at this portion of scripture today, this section in James that speaks on this topic and let it remind us as well as encourage us to be set apart through our Christ-like character, and our biblical beliefs—all of which should drive us toward those who need Christ, regardless of skin color, economic status, or political beliefs.

My brothers and sisters, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.For if a man comes into your [a]assembly with a gold ring and is dressed in bright clothes, and a poor man in dirty clothes also comes in, and you [b]pay special attention to the one who is wearing the bright clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil [c]motives?

FOCUS ONE: The exhortation and clear illustration

In verses 19-27 of the previous chapter, James shows the importance of putting spiritual truth into practice. He speaks of “hearing” the Word and then urges his readers to be “doers” of the Word (22). What he so simply and yet profoundly shows us is that “real” hearing involves “doing.”

So those verses 19-27 show us the importance of putting spiritual truth into practice, especially regarding our tongue and those less fortunate. James begins his discussion on favoritism by using a “prohibition.” He says, “hold not the faith of our Lord with respect of people (favoritism). It is a present tense imperative in Greek, which means that James is talking about a practice “already” in progress and is commanding them to stop it! We can see that they were guilty of doing this by looking at verse 6.

Do you see the point that James is getting at? Look again at verse 1 and then 5-6. The fact is—-partiality or favoritism is a contradiction to the faith. It is inconsistent with faith.

Now let’s take that truth further and study the illustration James uses in verses 2-4. 5-6 tell us who God has chosen! There are many ways in which we can display favoritism. 

1. By treating one person more favorably than others ex. Genesis 37:3—Jacob loved Joseph more than all his


2. By not giving equal justice under the law (Exodus. 23:3)

3. By church leaders not applying sound doctrine impartially within their sphere of influence—ex. 1 Timothy’s admonition to leaders.

4. By allowing perceived wealth or lack thereof to influence us—this example is right here in our text.

All of these have at least one thing in common: our tendency to form judgments based on selfish, personal criteria rather than seeing others as God sees them.

Read verses 2-4 again.

Two men enter your church in their day synagogue: the first one, a man of wealth. The second was a shabbily dressed dirty man, probably a beggar.

You show the rich man special attention, lead him to the front row in the church, you tell him it is such an honor for you to have him present with you. However, the other guy is quickly and bluntly told to stand against the wall in an un-obvious place. Or sit on the floor somewhere out of the way—what a stark contrast in behavior we witness here. James then brings it all home in verse 4. He assumes that his readers will understand what he is saying and agree with his conclusion. “Have you not discriminated (shown favoritism)? You Have become “judges with evil thoughts.”

In other words, when they so judged between these men based on perceived status, they became unjust judges. They, in effect, were working against the Lord who, Peter said in Acts 10:34, “of a truth I perceive that God is NO respecter of persons.”

It is the same for us. When we so judge others, we become unjust judges and work against the very Gospel we profess to love. How might you be showing favoritism in your home, church, workplace, school today?

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters: did God not choose the poor [a]of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and [b]personally drag you into [c]court? Do they not blaspheme the good name [d]by which you have been called?

If, however, you are fulfilling the [e]royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Law as violators. 10 For whoever keeps the whole Law, yet stumbles in one point, has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do murder, you have become a violator of the Law

FOCUS TWO: The error in judgment 2:5-11

James advances two arguments against the practice of favoritism

1. The social argument (5-7)

2. The moral argument (9-11)

Notice the tone of James in verse 5. He loves these people and wants them to understand their errors and the seriousness of it.

How was the early church formed? From the wealthy or ruling classes? Not hardly! It was primarily made up of poorer people. Poor in the eyes of the world, that is. We see it in the gospels (Matthew . 11:5); Paul implies it (1 Corinthians . 1:26-29), and James declares it right here in our text.

Wow, reread verse 5. But they are not r-e-a-l-l-y poor, are they? They are RICH in faith and heirs of the kingdom! Don’t misunderstand James here. He is not saying that all poor people are rich in faith, and he does not exclude the rich from being in the heavenly roll of the redeemed. God does not show favoritism in His redemption, and THAT IS THE POINT! Neither should we practice favoritism.

They were despising the very ones God had chosen (6). They were acting foolishly because the very ones that were oppressing them, the very ones that were taking them to court, the same people were even blaspheming the very name by which they were called “Christian” (Christ-follower). And they were holding them up in esteem over the poorer brother whom God called unto Himself! This leads us to the moral argument.

James now reflects them to the “royal law.” What is that? Is it a law different than the Mosaic law? Is it a law from some king that they must follow?

The answer is found in the same verse (8). The commandment James uses here (love your neighbor as yourself) is the second table of the Ten Commandments given back in Exodus 20. It is “Royal” not simply because it is lofty, but because it is the supreme law by which all others are subordinate! We find Jesus Himself stating this in Matthew 22:35-40. He said that on these two commandments (love for God, Love for others), “hang” all of the law and the prophets).

James point here is that even if you fulfill the Royal law and love your neighbors like yourself, you are doing right. Yet, if you show favoritism, you have violated this law and stand convicted as a transgressor of the Royal law and, it does not get any better, in that you offended the law in that one place, you are guilty of offending ALL of it (10).

Brothers and sisters, is there any place in your hearts, in your lives, where you may be practicing this very sin? At home between your children? At work? In your friendships? The right course of action is to show favor to e-v-e-r-y-o- n-e, whether rich or poor, beautiful or not. 

True gospel love, Christ-like love, overlooks such superficial distinctions and shows kindness to a person despite any distasteful qualities that person may have.

Question: Why is it so difficult for us at times to treat others with mercy?

11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do murder, you have become a violator of the Law. 12 So speak, and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy [a]triumphs over judgment.

FOCUS THREE: The warning (2:11-13)

James continues his explanation by explaining the “unity of the law.” Simply put, God’s law has many facets to it, but it is essentially one! (11) Violating His law at one point is more than just violating “a command.” It is to violate the will of God and to contradict His character and nature. When we view it from God’s perspective, an act of favoritism is far from being insignificant!

Verse 12—”so speak and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of Liberty.”

James warns his readers to remember that they will be judged one day for everything done in the body, whether good or bad. This judgment will take place at the (bema) judgment seat of Christ. We read about that in 2 Corinthians. 5:10.

Yes, indeed, believers are no longer under condemnation (Rom. 8:1), but that verse states that we still have accountability before God for the things we have done in the body. Paul explained this in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. Jesus, Himself stated the basic principle being brought out in verse 13 in Matthew 18:33.

These people, as recipients of mercy, should be merciful. You and I, as recipients of mercy, should be merciful!

Dear Christian, as one commentator put’s it: “the presence of love (mercy) shows that God has performed a work of grace in our hearts, making us like Christ, as a result, we can have confidence before Him when we are judged.”


The way we show our faith in Christ is in obedience to His commands, heralding MERCY over judgment because God has shown mercy to us through Jesus Christ.

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