1. Recognize the Context: Previous Context-James 1:26-27
In verse 26, James describes the person who thinks they are religious. This adjective is only used here in the New Testament, and the noun religion is used four times, including twice in verses 26-27. The word religion means “devotion to God and the expression of that devotion through worship, prayer, etc.” A religious life without guarding one’s speech habits is empty and without value. It is also a basis for self-deception (verse 22).
The pure religion God the Father accepts must include caring for the widows and orphans in their affliction and avoiding the world’s sinful pollution.
Verses 26-27 present three themes, which will be considered in three subsequent sections. These themes include speech ethics, treatment of the poor and oppressed, and resistance to the world’s corruption. A final thought:
Within the modern evangelical world, we often hear the Christian mantra, "it's not about religion; it's about a relationship." This emphasis on the relational aspect of Christianity is significant and helpful for new and old Christians alike. However, this is not a dichotomy the New Testament makes, and specifically, not one James makes. James did not understand the words “religious” and “religion” to be inherently negative, as many do today. The word for religion implies a relationship with God leading to acts of worship and devotion. However, James argues “religion” is empty and self-deceptive if it’s not accompanied by actions that demonstrate guarded speech, care for the poor, and avoidance of the world’s sinfulness. 2. Read the Scripture: James 2:1-4
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 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,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
3. Reflect on the Scripture: The backdrop of James 2:1-4 is Leviticus 19:5, which states, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”
James instructs his fellow believers not to show favoritism or partiality. He follows this imperative with a hypothetical, but very practical situation concerning the poor and the rich. In this scenario, the wealthy in the congregation receive special attention and preferred seating. The poor receive exactly the opposite treatment.
This section concludes with a rhetorical question, “Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? An affirmative answer is expected if one acts in this manner to the rich and poor. Ultimately, this type of social and economic prejudice is grounded in evil thinking.
4. Relate to life:
Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
Today, prayerfully reflect on how you respond to the poor and those in need.
Today, prayerfully consider how your church ministers to those in need. Today, ask God for help not to show favoritism and not to judge others based on appearance.
To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. What specific actions can you take today? What about those in your church?
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passages).
Read and study these passages on partiality-Deut. 1:17, Prov. 24:23, Acts 10:34 (See Acts 10:1-35 for the story of Peter and Cornelius), Ro 2:9-11; Col 3:25.
Read and study these passages on judging Matt. 7:1-2, John 7:24