My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. 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? … If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 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. … What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
Faith Is Not Selfish
Our sinful human nature has an inborn tendency which James illustrates for us today: selfishness can raise its ugly head even among brothers and sisters in Christ. Interestingly, the two illustrations James uses have to do with how we interact with others who have much, or those who have little or nothing.
Selfish. Isn’t that what showing favoritism to the wealthy amounts to? Why would I show special attention to a man wearing fine clothes and a gold ring? It could be out of respect for the gifts and skills he has developed, for his hard work, and for a job well done. More likely, however, this special attention is sinful favoritism which is angling toward something for me. What can I get? How can I benefit? How can this work—or how can I work this—to my advantage? Such favoritism is selfish.
The same is true of empty words. Why would I tell people without clothes and food to be warm and well fed, but do nothing to address their physical needs? It could be because some circumstance got in the way, making it impossible to carry out what I fully intended to do. More likely, however, it is my sinful concern for my own comfort and ease—not wanting to be inconvenienced or have my routine disrupted. That too is selfish.
Both situations betray a sinful focus on me, and James calls me out on both accounts: “If you show favoritism, you sin …” and “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
The answer to a sinful focus on self is to look to our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. He is glorious because he was and is perfectly unselfish—in his coming, in his interaction with those who had much and those who had little or nothing, in his sacrifice of himself, and in his ongoing work as our Prophet, Priest, and King. Jesus is gloriously, unselfishly perfect.
As you navigate life’s opportunities and challenges, remember that God has chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised to those who love him. Then say thank you; show your faith by deeds that are rich in love toward others.
O Lord, forgive my sinful selfishness. Help me overcome the temptations to show favoritism or speak empty words. Enable me, in Christ, to be rich in love toward all. Amen.