This coming Sunday morning at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 2:1-13. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: “favoring freedom by fighting back the flood-waters of favoritism.” To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty questions with which to wrestle.
My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, ‘Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.’ But to the poor person you say, ‘Stand over there’; or, ‘Here, sit at my feet.’ Wouldn’t you have shown favoritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges?
My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?
You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself. But when you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker. Anyone who tries to keep all of the Law but fails at one point is guilty of failing to keep all of it. The one who said, Don’t commit adultery, also said, Don’t commit murder. So if you don’t commit adultery but do commit murder, you are a lawbreaker. In every way, then, speak and act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom. There will be no mercy in judgment for anyone who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy overrules judgment. (James 2:1-13 CEB)
1. Make a list of the sins James says his brothers and sisters in Christ were guilty of according to this text (vs. 1-13).
2. Someone tells you “favoritism is just part of being human” and so, “you shouldn’t get too worked up about it” because it’s “just the way things are.” This Scripture teaches otherwise! Working from this passage (vs.1-13) what exactly is it would you say that makes showing favoritism a “sin?”
3. Working only from what you know from this passage (vs.1-13) would you say the “wealthy” spoken of here are Christians or people who are yet to believe? What of the poor? Would you say they are believers or unbelievers? Why and what effect does your understanding have on understanding the context of James’ letter as a whole?
4. Why would Jesus being referenced as “Lord Jesus Christ” and “resurrected to glory” (vs.1) be important to the context of the discussion that follows (vs.1-13)?
5. Assume for a moment the church today has the same problem the church had in James’ time, namely, showing favoritism to the well-to-do (vs.1-3). James’ evidence the church then was guilty of such was how the well-to-do were greeted and where they are seated in an assembly. What evidences would you place on the table regarding favoritism toward the well-to-do today? If it helps you answer, think of yourself as an impoverished Christian watching what all goes on in a Christian gathering.
6. What can Christians do to be pro-active in preventing favoritism from taking root in the lives of Christians, and in preventing its expression and tolerance in a Christian gathering?
7. Imagine a church today considering establishing a “dress code” for Christians attending Christian gatherings. What bearing would you say this text (vs.1-13) should have on such a conversation?
8. James is seriously put out with the judging that’s going on in church (vs.4). Good thing that doesn’t happen today, right? Right. James’ beef was with Christians judging others, and each other, on the basis of clothes and jewelry. What sort of things have you witnessed or experienced judging going on about among Christians in church today?
9. Would you say vs.5 does or does not teach that God shows “holy prejudice” toward the poor? Allow the whole of Scripture to inform your understanding and explain.
10. To whom has God specifically promised the kingdom (vs.5)? Why?
11. How is it these Christians could be tempted to show favoritism to the wealthy (vs.1-3) when it was the wealthy who was treating them so badly (vs. 6-7)?
12. In this passage the basis of favoritism that James decries among Christians is showing favoritism toward status, power, and money. What other reasons for favoritism have you witnessed or experienced “in church?”
13. Brainstorm a list of ways Christians commonly, whether wittingly or unconsciously, “dishonor the poor” (vs.6). Brainstorm an additional list of ways Christians can deliberately show, and encourage, respect to the poor among them.
14. Notice the reference to baptism in vs.7. What might we be able to conclude regarding Christian baptism working only from the information in this passage?
15. Where else is the statement “love your neighbor” found in Scripture outside of this passage (vs.8) and who said it?
16. To “love your neighbor as yourself” is “the royal law found in Scripture” (vs.8). James’ concern is for brotherly love to not be damaged by the practice of favoritism. What other explicit instances of practicing brotherly love have we seen already in James’ letter (chapter 1)?
17. How would you characterize the difference between “the Law” (vs.10) and “the law of freedom” (vs.12b)?
18. In your own words, explain the meaning of vs.10.
19. James is concerned for his brothers’ and sisters’ speech and actions (vs.12). Where else in James’ letter have we already seen this need for a deliberate correlation of, and consistency in, Christian speech and action (chapter 1)?
20. Explain James’ statement that “mercy overrules judgment” (vs.13). How exactly is this statement meant to bear on the whole of vs. 1-12?