James 2:1-7 (NIV): Faith and playing favourites in church, Part 1[1]

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By Spencer D Gear PhD

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting [synagogue] 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?

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: 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 dishonored 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 blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 2:1-7 NIV).

A. Introduction

clip_image002(photo courtesy Chicago Now)[2]

Have you been following the recent story from Wheaton College, an evangelical college near Chicago, where one of its political science lecturers has been threatened with the sack because …

‘Wheaton College says it is taking steps to fire Dr Larycia Hawkins for her views on Islam and God’.

In trouble … Dr Larycia Hawkins faces termination from her job. This news has even reached Australia. I read this information from news.com.au, Reuters News Corp Australia Network, January 6, 2016

A POLITICAL science professor is being fired after she wrote a Facebook post saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian university outside Chicago, says it is taking steps to fire Dr Larycia Hawkins, who wrote on the social media site on December 10 that she was donning the hijab headscarf during the period of advent before Christmas as a sign of solidarity with Muslims. In her post she said “we worship the same God.”

Hawkins was placed on administrative leave after the comment drew criticism, and on Tuesday the school said in a statement Wheaton’s provost had delivered a notice to President Philip Ryken recommending her employment be terminated.[3]

Isn’t that discrimination against Dr Hawkins? Isn’t that an example of Wheaton College showing favouritism towards Christians and not towards Muslims? Is this a practical, contemporary example of the kind of issue that was addressed in James 2 of ‘faith and playing favourites in church’?

Buckle up as we examine James 2:1-7 and James’ challenge on partiality, favouritism and discrimination.

B. Christians must stop doing it

Some of your translations in v. 1 will read,

murky-arrow-small ‘show no partiality’ (ESV; NAB; NKJV);[4]

murky-arrow-small ‘Do not show prejudice’ (NET);

murky-arrow-small ‘Do not show favoritism’ (HCSB);

murky-arrow-small ‘Do not hold the faith … with partiality’ (NKJV).

In the Greek language, the verb is a present tense imperative with the negative, m?. It is used for ‘forbidding a practice already in progress’.[5] Those who received this letter from James were already doing this. They were showing favouritism or prejudice towards certain people and they were told to stop doing it. We’ll learn in verse 6 what this partiality was.

1. Remember the background of James 2.

It is in James 1:19-27 (NIV):

snowflake-red-small ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry’ (v 19);

snowflake-red-small ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves’ (v 22);

snowflake-red-small If you consider yourself religious, ‘keep a tight rein on their tongues’ (v 26);

snowflake-red-small What is pure religion that is faultless? ‘Look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world’ (v 27).

What causes this difference from worldly thinking? What brings about this other centredness to care for orphans and widows? We get the answer in James 2:1

2. It’s the Jesus’ difference!

It’s too easy to say this phrase quickly, ‘glorious Lord Jesus Christ’ (NIV). Your translation could say something like, ‘our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory’ (ESV). The biblical emphasis is that he is

(a) Lord – kurios is used 14 times in this epistle.[6] For a Jewish audience, it had the implication that Jesus is God – deity. In the Greek OT (LXX), kurios translated Yahweh, the name for God that speaks of his sovereignty.[7]

(b) Jesus – Jesous is his human name given to him at his birth and it speaks of his saving work in his incarnation. Matt 1:21 indicates this, ‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (ESV). Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua that means ‘salvation’. In the name and person of Jesus, we have all that is represented in the gospel story.[8]

(c) Christ – Christos is the Greek for the Hebrew, ‘Messiah’ (see Ps 2:2; Acts 4:26), meaning ‘the anointed one’. For these Jewish readers of James, when the term Christos was placed with Jesus, it meant that he fulfilled OT prophecies.[9]

So Lord Jesus Christ refers to the one who is sovereign saviour of salvation, the fulfiller of OT prophecies.

He is the one who is spoken of in Col 1:27 (ESV), ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’. However, we must remember that in this verse, ‘you’ is plural so Paul is saying to the Colossians and to all Christians that when Christ in the Christian community, the church, he is the hope of glory. When the Lord Jesus Christ dwells among us, he makes a radical difference in our behaviour.

What difference?

3. You must quit showing favouritism in the church gathering.

It doesn’t matter whether you were a newly converted Jew in the first century or in a church today in Somalia, India, Russia, France, UK, Chile, or here at 55 Old Dayboro Rd., Petrie. You will face this same challenge to play favourites with some and to ignore others who come into this church gathering. James now gives …

C. Two hypotheticals (vv 2-3)

‘Suppose a man comes into your meeting’. The noun for ‘meeting’ is sunag?g?. What does that sound like? Synagogue! It could be that these Jewish Christians were still meeting in a Jewish synagogue but it could mean that after leaving the synagogue these Christians were still using the word, sunag?g?, to indicate their church meeting place.

James gives an example of two men who come to a church gathering and look what happens:

1. You suck up to the rich (v 2)

Image result for the rich public domainWhy? He’s ‘wearing a gold ring and fine clothes’. The Greek word for ‘fine’ is lampra which was often used in the first century to ‘describe the clothing of a rich person or a dignitary. In the Roman world it was the toga [an official robe] of a candidate of public office’.[10]

What do we do with this man? We show him ‘special attention’ and refer him to ‘a good seat’. Where is that in this building? Does he get a cushioned seat? In Derbyshire, UK, in the 1630s, there are Derbyshire Record Office entries that tell of wealthier, male householders who had ‘pews in the high status area near the pulpit’ and there were ‘common & vulgar seats’ for the common folks (Wood 2013:214).

Then there is the contrast in v. 3:

2. You belittle the poor (v 3)

‘A poor man in filthy old clothes comes in’. ‘Filthy’, rhypara, means shabby and is often associated with someone who is dirty and grubby. Today we’d call him a tramp or hobo.

Four Pink Towels In PovertyWhat did these people say to this grubby man who entered their church meeting? The NLT rightly translates this: ‘You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor’. He is treated as worthless scum.

What have these Christians done with both the rich man and the bloke in filthy clothing? They have judged by outward appearance.

The Scriptures could not be more forthright in the assessment. For those who do this:

 

D. Bigotry God condemns (v 4)

Notice how the text puts this in question form in v 4:

1. This is terribly wrong behaviour

Here’s the question: Have you not discriminated? It comes with the negative particle in Greek, ou, and James expects his readers to agree with him. Yes, we have discriminated.

The examples in vv 2-3 demonstrate that there was unjustified discrimination – favouritism. What you have done is terribly, terribly wrong because …

2. You have become judges with evil thoughts (v 4).

There’s an interesting play on words in the original language in v. 4. The word used for ‘discriminated’ (diekrith?te) is built on the same root as the word for ‘judges’ (kritai). Donald Burdick has conveyed this play on words well: ‘In so judging between men, the readers had become unjust judges’ (Burdick 1981:178).

(a) Do we get it?

(b) In so judging, you promote injustice because you are unjust judges.

If people come into this church and one looks lavish and you show him special favours and the other scruffy bum comes in and you show him where to go, you have committed injustice through your evil thoughts which led to evil actions.

James would not be including this example in his epistle if it was impossible to commit this discrimination in the 21st century. We are as vulnerable as the Jewish Christians in the first century.

Now James gives

E. Argument against favouritism (vv. 5-7)

The next example is in the next sermon. We should be convinced already that showing favouritism towards anyone coming into the church is wrong, discriminates against them, and Christians are guilty of judging unjustly. But James is not finished with driving the point home. He does it through two main arguments. I’ll deal with one of them tonight and the second argument in the next sermon.

The first argument against favouritism concerns what we Christians have done. Look how v. 5 begins, ‘Listen, my dear brothers and sisters’. It’s the imperative – a command. Some of your translations may have only ‘brothers/brethren’ (like ESV, NASB, NKJV, KJV) but whenever the Greek adelphoi is addressed to a mixed audience (like a church group in James), it means both males and females, so it refers to brothers and sisters in Christ.[11]

1. We have distorted God’s view of the poor (v 5)

The early church did not come from the realm of the high and mighty. It came largely from the poor; there were exceptions. Look at v. 5, ‘Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?’ The expected answer is, Yes. God chose ‘the poor in this world’.

We know this from verses such as Matt 11:5 (NIV) where it is recorded that Jesus said, ‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor’.

This is implied in what Paul said to the Corinthians:

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him (1 Cor 1:26-29 NIV)

Image result for the poor AfricaThese people are poor ‘in the eyes of the world’ but they are really rich. They are ‘rich in faith’ and their destiny is ‘to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him’ (James 2:6). The inheritance of the kingdom is yet to come. Aren’t you looking forward to that day?

But what do Christians do to the poor? Verse 6:

(a) We have degraded the poor (v 6)

We can screw up what James says about the poor if we have a superficial evaluation. James does not say that all poor people have a rich faith. Also, he doesn’t say that that because you are rich, you are disqualified from receiving salvation. God’s choice of the rich or the poor is not based in any merit because they are poor or disqualification because they are rich. We come before God on an equal footing. We are all sinners in need of a Saviour.

(b) Why does God choose the poor?

We find 2 reasons in Scripture:

(1) One reason is given in the story of the rich young ruler

Mark 10:23-25 states,

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (NIV).

Their dollars and riches stand in the way of entering God’s kingdom.

It is only those who recognise they are spiritually bankrupt before God, will be blessed. Again, Jesus: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 5:3 NIV).

(2) Second reason why God chooses the poor

According to 1 Cor 1:29, God chooses the poor ‘so that no one may boast before him’. God chooses the poor, as he has stated, because they have nothing and have nothing within themselves to brag before God.

What a contrast between how God was choosing the poor and why he does it, and how James readers were treating the poor and shabby. James 1:6 says that his readers ‘have dishonoured the poor’.

But there’s a contrast that we see with the rich according to James 1:6

2. What were the rich doing to their Christian witness?

James answers with 3 piercing questions in vv 6-7.

(a) Aren’t they exploiting you?

The word for ‘exploit’ is very strong in the Greek language. Katadynasteuw. It describes ‘the brutal and tyrannical deprivation of one’s rights’. We see it in the Greek translation of the OT (the LXX) in passages such as

flamin-arrow-small Ezek 22:29, ‘The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress [katadynasteu?] the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice’ (NIV).

flamin-arrow-small Zech 7:10, ‘Do not oppress [katadynasteu?] the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other’ (NIV).

(b) Aren’t they ‘dragging you into court?’ (v 6)

Yes, ‘drag’, helkw, can mean ‘to draw and attract’, as in John 6:44, but in other places it can mean ‘the act of forcibly dragging a person’. We see that meaning in Acts 16:19, ‘When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities’. We see it meaning that kind of dragging also in Acts 21:30, ‘The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut’ (NIV). That’s no gentle drawing of attracting. It’s giving the meaning of forcibly dragging the person.

That’s what they were doing with the poor. The rich were dragging them into court.

But the rich were doing more:

(c) Aren’t they ‘blaspheming the noble name’ of Christ (v 7)?

When I read this question in James 2:7, it reminded me of the language, plastered across the mass media many times, from the late Kerry Packer.

Some of you are old enough to remember the story of what happened to him.

On 6 October 1990, Australia’s richest man, the late media mogul Kerry Packer, was playing polo at Sydney’s Warwick Farm racecourse when he suffered a massive heart attack. His heart stopped for eight minutes, but he was revived by an ambulance crew using a defibrillator (which produces an electric shock to restart the heart’s normal rhythm).[12]

Other reports said ‘he was clinically dead for six minutes before being revived by ambulance officers’ (Zinn 2005).

However, it is what he often said between his encounter with death in 1990 and his final death in 2005 that demonstrated how this richest of rich man could use foul language about what happens at death.

He repeated over and over for the media to grab their one-liners. He told his interviewer friend, Phillip Adams: ‘I’ve been to the other side, and let me tell you, son, [blankety blank][13] there’s nothing there. There’s no one waiting for you. There’s no one to judge you, so you can do what you [blankety blank] like’.[14]

That’s just one example of how the rich blaspheme God and the afterlife. It is recorded in Scripture that ‘And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement’ (Heb 9:27 ESV).

I’m backing Scripture over Kerry Packer. As James warned us about the rich, ‘They are blaspheming the noble name’ of the Lord Jesus Christ.

F. Dangerous favouritism

What would you say after listening to the message I’ve preached tonight? (wait for an answer before giving the following. What’s the danger of playing favouritism in church?

1. It destroys our witness (v 1).

2. Outward appearance is a shocking way to judge spiritual intent (vv 2-3).

3. God’s love is of all people, but the poor respond to his offer more readily (v 5).

4. The rich have been known to blaspheme God (v 7).

5. Next sermon: The crux of the matter is to do what is right through practising the royal law. And it has nothing to do with Queen Elizabeth or Prince Charles.

G. Conclusion

I began this message with the illustration of Dr Larycia Hawkins, professor of political science at Wheaton College, Illinois, who is being threatened with the sack because of her statement on Facebook that ‘we worship the same God’, i.e. her claim is that Christians worship the same God as Muslims.

Secularists will see it as discrimination, but from the information available to me, Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian institution, wants to be faithful to its heritage and statement of faith.

On the Wheaton website, ‘Statement of Faith and Educational Purpose’, it states:

The doctrinal statement of Wheaton College, reaffirmed annually by its Board of Trustees, faculty, and staff, provides a summary of biblical doctrine that is consonant with evangelical Christianity….

WE BELIEVE in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons: the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life….

WE BELIEVE that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, as a representative and substitutionary sacrifice, triumphing over all evil; and that all who believe in Him are justified by His shed blood and forgiven of all their sins.[15]

However, what is Islam’s view of God and Jesus? I will be very brief:

1. Allah: Is he the Lord God Almighty revealed in the Bible?

Quran 112:1-4 (Yusuf Ali translation) succinctly gives the Muslim understanding of Allah’s nature:

1. Say: He is Allah, the One and Only;

2. Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;

3. He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;

4. And there is none like unto Him.

2. Curse on those who call Christ, the son of Allah

Quran 9:30 states: ‘The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!’

In summary:

gold foward button Allah is Unitarian and not Trinitarian;

gold foward button Allah does not beget a son.

Therefore, the God of Christianity is not the same as the God of Islam.

What Wheaton College is doing is dealing with a faculty member who denies a part of Wheaton’s Statement of Faith. Wheaton, in wanting to be faithful to Scripture and its Statement of Faith, is taking action to sever the professor’s employment as her view is not consistent with being an evangelical Christian faculty member at Wheaton.

It is showing that the Wheaton College action is not practising partiality or discrimination but is dealing with a faculty member who has moved away from the standards of Wheaton as affirmed in its Statement of Faith. It is being obedient to its godly vision.

[See Appendix for final decision reached by Wheaton College regarding staff member, Dr Larycia Hawkins.]

Appendix

The Chicago Tribune, February 6, 2016, reported on what seems to be the final outcome of this situation:

A tenured professor at Wheaton College [Dr Larycia Hawkins] suspended for saying Muslims and Christians worship the same God has reached an agreement with the west suburban evangelical school to end her employment there, while the administrator who called for her termination has apologized for acting in haste.

Wheaton Provost Stanton Jones told professors in an email Saturday night that he had turned over the decision of whether to vacate the administrative leave of their colleague, Larycia Hawkins, to college President Philip Ryken. But two hours later, faculty received another email from Ryken, informing them that Hawkins would not return to teach.

“The administration and Dr. Hawkins have come to a place of resolution and reconciliation,” Ryken wrote. “With a mutual desire for God’s blessing, we have decided to part ways.”

Ryken invited faculty to a private worship service at Edman Memorial Chapel Tuesday night and a reception, where Hawkins will say goodbye.

“This is a time for prayer, lament, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation,” Ryken said.

The settlement agreement appears to bring to a close a drama that began in December when Hawkins announced on Facebook that she would don a hijab as part of her Advent devotion to show support for Muslims who had been under scrutiny since mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted on Facebook, along with a photograph of herself in a hijab. “And as Pope Francis stated … we worship the same God.”

Within days, the college placed Hawkins on paid administrative leave through the spring semester, pending a review.[16]

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[17] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Burdick, D W 1981. James, in F E Gaebelein (gen ed), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol 12, 159-205. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Kelly, W J 2015. Wheaton College must fire Larycia Hawkins. Chicago Now (online), 17 December. Available at: http://www.chicagonow.com/kelly-truth-squad/2015/12/wheaton-college-must-fire-larycia-hawkins/ (Accessed 27 August 2016).

Pashman, M B 2016. Wheaton College reverses efforts to fire professor, but she won’t return to teach. The Chicago Tribune (online), 6 February. Available at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-wheaton-college-professor-firing-reversal-20160206-story.html (Accessed 27 August 2016).

Rowe, D 2009. What Should I Believe? Why Our Beliefs About the Nature of Death and the Purpose of Life Dominate Our Lives. London and New York: Routledge.

Thayer, J H 1885/1962.Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, tr, rev, enl. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Wood, A 2013. The Memory of the People: Custom and Popular Senses of the Past in Early Modern England.. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Zinn, C 2005. Kerry Packer: Australian media tycoon who built on his family fortune and transformed world cricket. The Guardian, 28 December. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/news/2005/dec/28/guardianobituaries.cricket (Accessed 9 January 2016).

Notes


[1] This message was preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld, Australia, Sunday PM service, 17 January 2016

[2] Kelly (2015).

[3] Reuters New Corp Australia Network 2016. Wheaton College says it is taking steps to fire Dr Larycia Hawkins for her views on Islam and God (online), 6 January. Available at: http://www.news.com.au/world/north-america/wheaton-college-says-it-is-taking-steps-to-fire-dr-larycia-hawkins-for-her-views-on-islam-and-god/news-story/1a040e7641fc2a6e493d73158c8b06da (Accessed 6 January 2016).

[4] The NKJV reads, ‘Do not hold the faith … with partiality’.

[5] Burdick (1981:177).

[6] They are 1:1, 7, 12; 2;1; 4:10, 15; 5:4, 7, 8, 10, 11 twice, 14, 15 (Hiebert 1979:62).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., p. 178.

[11] See Arndt & Gingrich (1957:15-16); Thayer (1885/1962:11).

[12] ‘Kerry Packer and a plea for privacy’, Oxford University Press 2015. Available at: http://www.oup.com.au/orc/extra_pages/higher_education/hirst__and__patching/kerry_packer (Accessed 9 January 2016).

[13] He said, ‘Fucking’.

[14] Cited in Rowe ( :205)

[15] Available at: http://www.wheaton.edu/About-Wheaton/Statement-of-Faith-and-Educational-Purpose (Accessed 9 January 2016).

[16] Pashman (2016).

[17] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 September 2017.