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Delivered July 25, 2010 | Cleveland, OH | MetroAlliance Church

Face Recognition vs. Heart Recognition

Don’t play favorites, be kind to the poor, extend mercy to all.

Click here to view the accompanying PowerPoint slides.

Introduction: Porpoise & cow

Don’t ask me. It’s just an image I stumbled across and somehow it seems to at least loosely fit with today’s passage.

The passage is James 2:1-13. It’s on page 1196-97 in the NIV pew Bibles. We’ll step through it, but first, how many here have Twitter accounts? Facebook accounts?

Message preview & summary: Tweetable version

Please feel free to Tweet or Facebook this message preview. It’s exactly 140 characters and more or less summarizes the passage.

"2 people walk into a church. One is LeBron James (or anyone else you consider a celebrity) & the other isn't. So what? Welcome both equally!"

Okay then.

Series review: Where we are in James

Let’s look back at where we’ve been so we can see where are in our series on James:

On Week 1, we learned that a changed life gets in the game.

On week 2, we learned that Christ ones are to endure through trials with joy. This builds character and faith.

On week 3, we learned that considering the source of what we encounter in life protects us from being deceived.

And then last week, week 4, Jeff showed us that we train for the righteous life that God desires by hearing God’s Word and doing what it says.

This week, James’ theme is, in a nutshell: Don’t play favorites, be kind to the poor, extend mercy to all.

Before we dive into the passage, it will be helpful to review some aspects of God’s character and define some important terms.

Two aspects of God’s character

There are two aspects of God’s character that shine through strongly in this passage.

First, God is not partial and doesn’t play favorites.

Playing favorites means to pit sides against each other, to compare and contrast with wrong motives. It does damage to those who are not favored.

Deuteronomy 10:17 states, “For the LORD your God is God of gods and LORD of LORDs, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.”

This is echoed throughout scripture, including Job 34 where Job says God “shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of his hands.”

And in Romans 2:11, Paul states simply, “For God does not show favoritism.”

Second, God expresses tenderness toward the poor.

God does not play favorites with the rich or the poor. However, God does express more affection and care toward poor than he does toward the rich, because the poor are at a disadvantage to begin with. Deuteronomy 15:7 instructs us to be mindful of the poor: “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.”

God’s affection toward the poor helps level the playing field. While not indicating that He is “against” the wealthy, God does show that He is on the side of the poor.

Christ even opened the Sermon on the Mount in Luke 6:20 saying, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

And James 2:5 states, “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?”

This doesn’t mean that the rich cannot become believers. God is impartial when it comes to judging our spiritual state, but does extend special grace and concern toward the poor and the helpless. We learned last week that “pure religion” involves caring for widows or orphans – essentially anyone who is helpless, such as the poor.
Who are these poor that Jesus and James are referring to? They are those who are aware of their need of God’s grace and His provision. You and me.

Who is most likely to feel their need of and be open to receiving the gospel: those who are wealthy or those who are poor? In your own experience, when have you been most likely to earnestly seek after God: when times were fat or when times were lean?

As for the wealthy, their situation isn’t hopeless, but as Jesus pointed out, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Now we know a couple of key elements of God’s character that will help shed light on this passage. As believers, we are to reflect God’s character by not playing favorites, being kind to the poor, and extending mercy to all. James is going to point out some failings in these areas using language that you might hear in a courtroom.

Definitions of important terms

Let’s take a look at some of these terms and clarify their meanings so we can truly understand what James is describing.

First, let’s look at “judge” and “judging.” A judge, like Judge Judy, listens to evidence from both sides of a case and then makes a determination, or judgment, between the plaintiff (accuser) and defendant (accused). She is judging for one person against another after fairly weighing the case against the law. The goal is to be fair.

About judging, Proverbs 24:23-26 states, “These also are sayings of the wise: To show partiality in judging is not good: Whoever says to the guilty, ‘You are innocent’—peoples will curse him and nations denounce him. But it will go well with those who convict the guilty, and rich blessing will come upon them. An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.”

Unfortunately, we often judge people unfairly because we fail to apply discernment.

The word discernment isn’t used in this passage, but it is implied. Sometime the terms judge and judging are used in the sense of discernment, which means to bring wisdom and keen insight to bear in a situation. It involves differentiating between truth and lies, to recognize the true heart of a matter, to detect the good and the bad.

Solomon asked God for “discernment in administering justice” and God was pleased with his request. In 1 Kings 3:12, God responded to Solomon saying, “I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.’”

Judgment usually implies pronouncing a sentence or rendering a verdict, while discernment means to hear intelligently with a fully engaged heart and mind. Both are to be done without discriminating.

The words discriminate and discrimination can generate some strong opinions and emotions. But the words can be used in innocent ways. For example, to say something like, “I have discriminating taste in music,” is simply a fancy way to say I like some kinds of music but not all kinds of music.

However, in this passage in James, the word takes on the meaning that probably comes to mind for most of us when we hear it today, which is to show preference or prejudice solely on the basis of appearances.

Discrimination and prejudice involve built-in, often negative perceptions toward a person, place, or thing, not usually based on facts, and that removes the ability to be impartial, and is totally void of discernment. In James, believers were discriminating, or making distinctions, among themselves and others.

Oh, I think we could use a little mercy right about now!

To do mercy means to extend compassion, to be lenient, to offer grace, to be generous, to forgive. Thank God that His mercies are new every morning! Here are four biblical declarations regarding mercy:

  • Proverbs 18:23: “A poor man pleads for mercy, but a rich man answers harshly.”

  • Hosea 6:6: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”

  • Zechariah 7:9: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.’”

  • Micah 7:18: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”

Ah, feels good!

Finally, let’s look at favoritism , which is included in James 2:1 as a very clear command: “Don’t show favoritism.” Some translations may say “partiality” or “with respect of persons.”

Favoring the pretty over the ugly

So, what is favortism? Well, we’ve already seen that it’s not part of God’s character. The term as used by James literally means to “receive someone according to their face,” or “to receive the face.” In other words, it means to profile a person based on their ethnicity, race, or some other aspect of their outward appearance. Favoritism tends to favor the rich and beautiful over the poor and downtrodden -- the ugly.

What was your initial reaction to the two faces up on the screen?

Face Recognition vs. Heart Recognition

You’ve probably heard of facial recognition technology and seen it used in TV shows like CSI and other crime dramas. It’s both cool and a little scary how a photo can be scanned and analyzed to find out who the person in the photo is. But the technology has its limitations.

Face recognition is fine for connecting a face with a name, but it can’t discern what’s in a person’s heart. It can’t judge character.

We use face recognition all the time to make judgments about other people who we know nothing about. We’ll be far more likely to be deferential to someone in a Hugo Boss suit than we would be to someone wearing a T-shirt and cut-offs.

In this passage, James outs these believers who are “receiving the face” and making judgments about others based solely on their appearance, ethnicity, and social status. They were playing favorites, not being kind to the poor, and withholding mercy.

James uses a kind of biblical Heart Recognition Technology on the recipients of his letter and methodically reveals their hearts’ intentions and motives.

The basis for biblical Heart Recognition Technology is in 1 Samuel 16, where we can read the story of how, after God rejected Saul as King , he sent Samuel into the countryside to find and anoint the next king, who would be David.

Before Samuel saw David, he met his brothers. These were all strong, strapping, good looking guys with kingly features. But, while Samuel was impressed with these externals, God instructs him to not consider their appearance or height, “for the LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Through the Holy Spirit, when we ask God for wisdom and discernment, we can access this biblical Heart Recognition Technology because we have the mind of Christ! Too bad the recipients of James’ letter weren’t keeping that in mind.

Faith Roles | Heart Roles

We’re almost ready to examine the passage in detail, but here’s a roadmap of sorts that will help guide us as we delve deeper. You have a copy in your bulletin.

This simply summarizes how the believers saw themselves or others based on Face Recognition, or “receiving the face” versus how James exposed their motives using biblical Heart Recognition Technology. You have copy in your bulletin insert.


Face Recognition
(how they saw others/themselves)

Heart Recognition
(the reality of their hearts/motives)

James 2:1

Brothers/Church Family


James 2:2-4



James 2:5-7



James 2:8-11



James 2:12-13



And now, let’s look at the Scriptures.

James 2:1

1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious LORD Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism.

A church family of like-minded believers

James is clearly writing to believers and acknowledges them as brothers, or as family. It’s a nice, warm and fuzzy opening, and they all think, “Yes, what a nice church family of like-minded believers we are. Aren’t we special. I wonder what other nice things James is going to tell us about ourselves?”

James is setting them up for a well-earned spiritual reality check. And yes, it will hurt just a little.
James 2:1 includes only one of two explicit references to Jesus Christ in the entire book of James. The first was in 1:1. So why is he adding it again so soon in the book and nowhere else later?

What James does here is really interesting because he refers to Jesus as “our glorious LORD Jesus Christ.”
Glorious means resplendent, bright, shining, lifted up. The readers of this letter should be focused only on “our glorious LORD Jesus Christ.” But that’s not the case. James is setting up his readers for what follows.

At this point, at face value, they look okay. But the heart scan is going to expose a ghastly form of idolatry, spiritual abuse, and law breaking. They were shamelessly playing favorites, being unkind to the poor, and withholding mercy.

Let’s read the next section:

James 2:2-4

2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby 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?

Judges who are really idolaters

So, what we have here is a gathering of believers that is open to the public. Just like us, they were having church. Two people, who seem to be visitors, come in and are met at the door by the ushers.

One man is expensively dressed and blinged-out in such a way as to reek wealth, prestige, elite status. Everything about his demeanor – the way he strolls in and commands the room – makes him appear to be someone important. Maybe there’s even an entourage. He looks good, smells good, sounds good. He’s got it all going on. He’s rich and everyone now knows it.

The other guy is the polar opposite. His clothes are shabby, worn out, filthy, and smelly. He is unwashed. His hair is tangled and dirty. His breath smells like a dead rat. He clearly has nothing. He’s helpless.

So what do these wonderful Christian brothers and sisters in the Lord do as these two enter their meeting place?
They kick the helpless man to the floor and fawn over the poser. They are despising the poor man while idolizing the rich man.

The believers in this scenario think that they are judging rightly by honoring the rich and setting aside the poor. I mean, there’s nothing in it for them to honor the poor. And they certainly didn’t want to offend the rich by sticking them next to a smelly person. Who knows what kind of disease he was carrying. He could have lice or AIDS or something, for crying out loud.

And just look at the rich guy! After all, don’t you know who he is? He’s SOMEONE!

My first time in New York City, I was walking with a couple of friends along Central Park and saw the actor, Anthony Quinn, getting in a taxi. I couldn’t think of his name. I nudged my friends and pointed, “Look! Look! There’s….SOMEONE! What’s his name????” Oddly, I’ve never had that reaction passing a homeless person sleeping on the street.

These believers were doing a great job of justifying their wrong behavior. They didn’t understand their worship was misplaced.

James describes the rich man as “wearing a gold ring and fine clothes.” The words he’s using literally mean “dressed in shining clothing,” indicating a sense of “glorious.” See now how he was setting them up in the first verse?

Essentially James is implying that the rich person is comporting themselves in such a way as to encourage worship and adulation by others.

The believers are falling for it, too. Their preoccupation with this “shiny thing” causes them to mindlessly abuse the poor man while forgetting who should be their primary focus of attention: Jesus, their “glorious” Lord!
Not only do these people discriminate against the shabbily dressed person, but they area also kinda sorta discriminating against God! Their special treatment of and fawning over the rich person is nothing less than idolatry.

Sit on the floor!

They tell the shabbily dressed man to go stand in a corner, or, if he must sit, to sit on the floor by someone’s stinky feet. Some versions say, “under my footstool.”

A footstool was a common item included with a throne, under which there would be very little room, if any, in which someone could fit. The imagery also speaks to the idea of a king putting his feet on his vanquished enemy which he has humiliated in defeat.

It makes me think of someone actually being used as a footstool and I don’t that that’s too strong an image.
But, what is the motivation for their behaving as “judges with evil thoughts?”

Rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous

Why do people try to get close to or attach themselves to celebrities and others viewed as rich and famous? Is their intention really just to be a helpful friend? Or, is their motive truly to see what they can get from the person?

Have you ever been in someone’s office and the wall is plastered with photos of them and notable people? Of course, I would never do that!

Okay, maybe I would!

Last year, Juan Williams was the commencement speaker at the school where I used to work. In some ways, Juan is to journalism what LeBron is to basketball. Juan is a brilliant man, an excellent writer, and a lot of fun to watch when he’s offering commentary on various issues on TV. I have a lot of respect for him. I love it when Juan is part of the panel on the weekly Fox news program, “News Watch.” He always takes a slightly contrarian view of everyone else. I like that quality in a person.

So, when I had an opportunity to get my picture taken with Juan, I was not going to pass it up. I put the camera into the hands of one of my former bosses and said, in sort of Jack Bauer-ish way, “Take our picture! Now!”
As you can plainly see, on the face of it, it appears that Juan and I are good buddies. You know, real BFFs. Well, maybe not. That was my one encounter with Juan and it lasted fewer than 30 seconds. Still, it was cool to meet Juan Williams.

Having our picture taken with a celebrity, even a Christian celebrity, is often a means of enhancing our reputation. It can make us appear to be powerful and influential. It may also imply, “I wish I had what they have.” Or even, “I wish I were just like them!” Or, “I wonder what I can gain from rubbing shoulders with this person?”

If LeBron James were to walk into our service right now, how would you react? Would you ooh and ahh and gawk and want his autograph? Would you want to punch him?

Would you be willing to push someone else aside so that you could get close to him? Would you want to get your picture taken with him?

Would you text and tweet and Facebook to all your friends about how you met LeBron James, implying that you were up close and personal with him – unlike everyone else in the room?

Would you envy him for what he has and who he is? Would you forget why you’re here today? Would the most important event of your day be your encounter with Lebron or an encounter with Jesus?

James, not LeBron, writes in verse 3:16, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

What a list! Envy. Selfish ambition. Disorder. Every kind of evil. This is an elaboration on what he’s writing about in 2:4 where he states “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” These believers, as well as the rich, are being motivated by envy, selfish ambition, and evil.

In Romans 1:29-32, Paul associates envy and evil, among other things, with those who have turned away from the Lord: “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

In James chapter 4, he states that, “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes and enemy of God.”

So, these believers who, on the face of things, thought they were being godly judges are failing miserably when it comes to not playing favorites, being kind to the poor, and extending mercy to all. Using bliblical Heart Recognition Technology, James exposes them as idolaters who are at risk of being judged by God, and not it a good way.

Idolatry means to replace God with anything or anyone else. It is a form of becoming stained or polluted by the world, which we heard last week is something we are to guard against. The idols in our lives will cause us to set aside others as we indulge our own evil desires.

For example, let’s say you’re enjoying your nice big HD flat screen TV, watching your favorite program “News Watch” on Fox News. Your spouse or child walks into the room, or maybe a friend calls, and they need to talk. They are clearly in distress. Do you stop your idol worship and turn your attention toward your spouse, child, or friend? Or do you brush them aside because it’s all about you?

Don’t worry, that one hit me as hard as it hit you. As one of my cousins-in-law once astutely observed, “The Clarks really love watching TV.”

But if idolatry wasn’t bad enough, these believers were abusing the poor and helpless, even as they were being misused by the very ones they were esteeming! James really lets them have it.

James 2:5-7

5 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?

6 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?

Well, duh! Of course, the answer to every question James is asking is a resounding YES!

Witnesses who are really abusers

And what he’s describing is truly a bizarre situation.

First, James reminds these believers that God has a special place in his heart for the poor they are tossing aside.
Then he reminds them that the fancy boy they are worshipping is part of the same group that is dragging them into court and suing them! The rich were exploiting, or oppressing, these “poor” believers! And at the same time, mocking their faith.

One commentator explains that James is describing a very common situation of the times where, “A small group of wealthy landowners and merchants accumulated more and more power, while large numbers of people were forced from their land and grew even poorer. Most of James’ readers probably belonged to this class of poor agricultural laborers.”

From previous messages, we’ve learned that these believers were also facing horrendous religious persecution. The odds are that being dragged into court by the rich was just another form of this persecution. In other words, it’s very likely that these believers were being targeted by the wealthy, who also mocked them and, thus, blasphemed God, or, as James says, they were “slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong.”

Because they were “receiving the face” and only looking at the surface of things, these believers were allowing themselves to be blind to the truth of who the rich really were. They also failed to see their own heart’s darkness.

It’s truly mind-boggling, but not unheard of even today. How many times have we seen celebrities, politicians, and others who have openly scorned the faith be paraded out on Christian TV or in Christian magazines? Sometimes they may appear to be friends of the faith, but later prove otherwise. Mel Gibson comes to mind.

And I’ve known Christian men and women who, because they did not want to put their salaries at risk, sucked up to an unethical boss who was unfair and shady in their business dealings. Sometimes I’ve been silent in similar situations for the same reasons; I knew what was going on was wrong but I didn’t want to lose my income.
Sometimes, we are so enamored of the aura surrounding someone or the situation, or fearful, we fail to do due diligence. As we learned in an earlier message, we need to “consider the source” behind the people and situations we are dealing with.

These believers James is addressing thought they were witnesses to the glory of rich men. But, subjected to biblical Heart Recognition Technology, they were really abusing and being used.

Are the eyes of your heart open? How are you doing when it comes to not playing favorites, being kind to the poor, and extending mercy to all?

Moving on.

James 2:8-11

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right.

9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

11 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 lawbreaker.

Accused who were really lawbreakers

So, the believers stand accused, but James isn’t through with them yet. On the face of things, they may be thinking, “Okay, we were wrong and James is slapping us on the hand.”

They begin to see the error of their ways but don’t see sin’s full impact. The extent of their sin is more serious than they realize.

James wasn’t satisfied to have then go stand in the corner in a timeout. No, he brings the full force of biblical Heart Recognition Technology to bear to drive home how serious their offense truly is. They have put themselves in a place of severe judgment by playing favorites, being unkind to the poor, and withholding mercy.

By valuing the wicked wealthy over the pitiful poor, these backward believers were violating God’s royal law of love, that stated to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which is a reference to Leviticus 19:13-18 which emphatically drives home the idea of not playing favorites, being kind to the poor, and extending mercy to all:

Leviticus 19:13-18

“Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight. Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD. Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD. Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
But why did James bring up the law, anyway? How is he making the connection between what they are doing and the law?

Well, obviously, because they are being unloving toward those who God loves, which is a direct violation of God’s law.

He also makes the connection because favoritism is nothing more than a form of legalism; and legalism cancels out fairness, mercy, and grace.

Favoritism is a form of legalism

When we are leaning on legalism, we compare and contrast ourselves against others, or, as James stated it in verse 3:4, we “discriminate among ourselves.” Legalism and favoritism damages our relationship with God and with other people.

How many “lesser” athletes have paid a price over the years having to step aside to keep the attention on LeBron? After focusing so much favor on LeBron, what did his teammates, fans, and even his bosses, gain? I’m just sayin’.

Favoritism says, “My X (or his X) is better than your Y (or their Y), “ where X and Y can represent clothing, social status, bank account, car, house, philosophy, accent, country of origin, skin color, preferred style of music, theology, Bible translation, favorite color – any person, place, thing, or way of thinking or behaving.

Legalistic favoritism is measuring others and ourselves against false standards that aren’t biblical. Instead of discerning faith, favoritism measures face. It seeks validation and worth from people, places, things, ways of thinking, and ways of behaving that connect us directly to the filth of the world.

Legalistic favoritism focuses us on immediate gratification, removes us from depending on God, and takes our attention away from His future glory He is preparing us for.

Legalism seriously impairs our ability to not play favorites, to be kind to the poor, and to extend mercy.
James goes on to point out that when we break one point of God’s law, we break them all, and gives adultery and murder as examples.

You may think, “Whew! Unlike Stephen, I’m off the hook because I’ve not done those!” Or have you? I think it’s interesting that James chose these two because there’s more to them than the obvious surface meanings.

For example, idolatry is a form a spiritual adultery. We are called to be the bride of Christ. When we pursue an idol, it’s the same as pursuing another lover for our souls. It makes us unfaithful to the Lord.

And Christ tied anger and murder together in Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' [which means worthless] is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

John stated it more bluntly in 1 John 3:15: “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”

Favoritism and partiality are forms of hate and anger.

Let’s recap the situation. We have believers behaving badly by abusing the poor in order to gain the favor of the unrighteous wealthy who are parading themselves around as if they were little gods while abusing the believers by robbing them with lawsuits and mocking their faith and the only ones who aren’t falling under some kind of condemnation are the poor who are being pushed aside.

Sounds like a soap opera.

By now, the readers of James’ letters are probably feeling pretty beat up and hopeless. They understand that they’ve more than just messed up a little. Biblical Heart Recognition Technology is showing them the extent of their sin is more serious than they realize.

They’ve been judged and their wondering, “What does James have in store for us next? Execution?”

Well, yes, they – and we – deserve death for all of our sins. But they, like us, live in the post-resurrection era of God’s amazing grace. Jesus already took care of the death requirement for our sins. And James is about to make this brilliantly clear.

The believers are not in a hopeless situation. There is a way to clean up this mess and set things right. James is going to show them that it’s not too late to stop playing favorites, start being kind to the poor, and begin extending mercy to all.

James 2:12-13

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,

13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

Judged and acquitted through mercy

Whew! There is hope!

As Nehemiah might say, “in your great mercy you did not put an end to us or abandon us, for you are a gracious and merciful God" (9:31).

Mercy is part of God’s character. While we are called to be living sacrifices, God doesn’t want to turn us, or us to turn others into burnt offerings.

He calls us to extend to others the same mercy and kindness we have received. In Matthew 6, Jesus taught his disciples to pray and to ask for forgiveness based on their forgiveness of others. He explained, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Jesus also stated simply, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

So, the recipients of James’ letter recognized they were guilty and deserved judgment. But, thankfully, biblical Heart Recognition Technology revealed to them that they were called to act impartially and to live in the freedom of grace because they were acquitted by God’s bountiful mercy.

All are ugly sinners

The reality is that without the blood of Jesus covering our sins, we’re all pretty ugly. If our salvation depended on “receiving our face,” we’d be out of luck. Even our mothers wouldn’t be able to love our raw and unforgiven spiritual mugs.

Without Jesus, we would be, as Paul characterized it in Ephesians 2, “without hope and without God in the world.”

Just as happens when we agree with God about our sinful state, and we receive God’s mercy, so we are to extend that same mercy to everyone around us, rich and poor alike.

Instead of “receiving their face,” we ask for wisdom to look into their hearts and extend to them the same compassion we have received from God.

So, how can we sum this all up?

Well, we could say, “Don’t play favorites, be kind to the poor, extend mercy to all.”

But here’s another way.

Summary in fewer than 10 words

Partiality? Favoritism? Bad!

Wealthy? Celebrity? Caution!

Mercy? Justice? Good!

That’s a pretty good summary. But let’s look at yet another.

Summary as a banner over me

Look back there. We stare at it every week. It does a fairly good job of summarizing this passage. James is telling us to live out the call together in love, fairness, mercy. Without these qualities, there is no doing anything together! We are called to not play favorites, be kind to the poor, extend mercy to all.

Our ministry is mercy

In their book, Urban Ministry, Harvie M. Conn and Manual Ortiz sum it up this way:

“The Lord Jesus has summoned his body to be what he is in the world. Mercy ministry is not optional but is demanded of all Christians, reflecting God’s concern for the value of life and his image bearers.”

How do we do this mercy ministry of not playing favorites, being kind to the poor and extending mercy to all?
Perhaps you view yourself as poor? Maybe you view me as rich?

First, I’m not close to being rich. I lost my job on March 5th and am barely surviving on unemployment which runs out in about six weeks. If it hadn’t been for the mercy of my apartment management who extended three months of free rent to me, I would be penniless and possibly homeless.

Second, there is always someone who has less than you or me. Compared to people in many third world countries, the poorest among us would be kings there.

If you consider yourself poor, one way to live out this call is to treat those you perceive as rich fairly. Don’t extend special treatment to them. Don’t befriend them thinking you might gain something from them. Don’t despise them for what you think they have. Be a brother and sister in the Lord to them. Be their friend. And remember that God has a special place in his heart for the poor.

Maybe you think of yourself as rich. Life’s been good, the bills are paid, and the bank account is fat. You have a lot to be thankful for and good reason to be cautious. Revelation 3:17 warns: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

And the responsibility of the rich is delivered in 1 Timothy 6:12-21: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

For all of us, rich and poor, the model for living out the call to not play favorites, be kind to the poor, and extend mercy to all is summarized in Acts 2:42-47: “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the LORD added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Before God, we are all poor. In Christ, we are all rich. In the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to share the wealth of His blessings to the needy of the world.

So, go and be blessed.

Don’t play favorites, be kind to the poor, extend mercy to all.

Bear his image as mercy givers, for by His mercy we are truly blessed.








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