“My brothers and sisters, do not show prejudice if you possess faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” James 2:1 (NET)
Teacher’s pet—not a name we like to be called when we are kids. We don’t want anyone to think that we receive special treatment, even if it is true! I know that I never liked the person who was the teacher’s pet, but I liked the teacher even less for having favorites!
Even as adults we often play favorites. We defer to those with star power, money, or status. Even in the church we are guilty of giving preference to some over others. The same problem was found in the churches of James’ day, and he decided to deal with it in a straightforward way!
Review James 1:27, and read James 2:1-13.
1. Copy James’ instruction in 2:1 that gives the context for this entire paragraph. This is your memory verse this week! Writing often helps me remember better!
James’ first argument against prejudice is that it is inconsistent with faith. Then, he gets more specific about the object of faith. It has become very unpopular to be very specific about faith. Our culture teaches that faith is the same, no matter what or whom it is in. It suggests that we can believe in almost anything and still call ourselves Christians; however, the Bible makes it clear that it is belief in the Lord Jesus Christ that binds us together in our faith.
So, before we go any further in our study, let’s look at the identity of Jesus, the focus of faith for the believer.
Hiebert calls James 2:1 James’ “confession of faith” because of the descriptive words that he uses in reference to Jesus.14
2. Look up these cross-references to glory, writing down your thoughts about the significance of the word glory being used for Jesus:
a. Ex. 40:34
b. 1 Ki. 8:11
c. Isa. 40:3-5 (The word is also translated “splendor”)
d. Titus 2:13
e. Heb. 1:3
f. 2 Pet. 1:17
Moo explains his understanding of James’ description: “’Glory’ is that state of ‘being-like-God’ to which Christians are destined (e.g. Rom. 5:2; 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17) and in which Jesus even now exists (Phil. 3:21; Col. 3:4; 2 Thess. 2:14; 1 Tim. 3:16; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 2:7, 9). Describing Jesus as the Lord of glory suggest particularly the heavenly sphere to which he has been exalted and from which he will come at the end of history to save and to judge (cf. Jas. 5:9).”
Stronger Jeans (optional): Go through all of the verses in Moo’s quote above and consider how they help you understand the concept of glory.
3. Read these stories. How did these people respond when they were faced with truths about Jesus?
Acts 26:1, 12-20
4. Responding to God question: Have you responded to Jesus as those in the previous question did? If not, continue to spend time in God’s word daily and ask Him to show you who Jesus really is. If you have confessed the same faith that James did, praise Jesus for His glory, for His identity as God Himself. Write down a prayer or poem extolling Him. Use the verses in question #2 as the foundation for your prayer.
5. Sharing Question: Share with the group how today’s lesson has made you feel. What were your feelings as you praised Jesus for being the very glory of Israel?
Reread James 2:1-13. Now back to the command not to be prejudiced!
1. In your own words explain the illustration of prejudice that James used as an example of how favoritism might work in the church of that day.
Hiebert says that the word for partiality or prejudice “came to be used of any form of improper preferential treatment. In the New Testament it always denotes favoritism or partiality, a biased judgment based on external circumstances….”15
Stronger Jeans (optional): Look up the Greek word for partiality or prejudice and some cross-references that use that same word. Write down any further insights.
2. What examples of prejudice or partiality have you seen in churches today?
3. Sharing Question: what prejudices, partialities, or favoritisms do you have? Maybe you don’t treat any group poorly but simply defer to those whom you consider higher up—the wealthy, the powerful, or the well-known. Would you be more likely to come to a worship service or church event if a “star” of some kind spoke? (There are “stars”, even in the church!)
4. Let’s look at some verses about God’s character. Write down your thoughts about how they relate to James’ teaching about prejudice:
a. Deut. 10:17-18
b. Rom. 2:11
c. Eph. 6:9
d. Col. 3:25
5. How does Gal. 3:28 parallel James’ teaching in chapter 2:1-13?
6. In James 2:4 what does he call the one who shows prejudice? Explain your understanding of James’ statement.
7. Responding to God: if God has convicted you about any sort of prejudicial behavior and thinking, confess that before Him today. Remember that He forgives our sins according to His mercy.
Reread James 2:1-13. Today we will focus on vv. 5-7.
1. How do these verses relate to what James says here about the poor?
a. Luke 1:51b-53
b. 1 Cor. 1:26-29
The question becomes whether these in Jas. 2:5 are poor in the sense of without money. Moo says that the word can refer to those materially poor and those who are poor “in a spiritual sense: humble and meek, recognizing their utter dependence on the Lord and trusting him for deliverance (see esp. Ps. 69:32; Isa. 29:19; 61:1; Amos 2:7, all of which use ptochos in the LXX).”16 Because James describes the poor as the “poor in this world” (Jas. 2:5), he feels that it opens up the possibility that this refers to both.
2. What did Jesus say about the poor in Matt. 5:3? Which of the above meanings would you give the word “poor” in James 2:5? Why?
Stronger Jeans (optional): Again, look up the other references mentioned by Moo in the quote above and see what they add to your understanding of the meaning of poor in the spiritual sense.
3. Sharing Question: In our Day One Study this week, we saw the majestic person of Jesus, who is God Himself. How does understanding that help you become more poor spiritually, if it does?
4. What were the rich people of that day doing to the poor and to God, according to James?
5. Sharing Question: Have you ever been mistreated, treated preferentially, or at least treated differently because of your status—socially, educationally, or monetarily— or because of your appearance (e.g., race, beauty, weight)? If so, share the situation and how you felt with your group.
6. Responding to God: Write a prayer asking God to convict you of any prejudice in favor of the wealthy or well-known, or against those without those things? Ask for the grace to have His attitude toward all.
Reread James 2:1-13, noting particularly vv. 8-11.
1. What does James contrast with prejudice? What is the opposite action?
“’Royal law’ might be James’s way of referring to the sum total of demands that God, through Jesus, imposes on believers. . . Understood in this sense, the ‘royal law’ may well extend beyond the Mosaic law as fulfilled and reinterpreted by Jesus to include the teaching of Jesus,” says Douglas Moo.17
Stronger Jeans (optional): Read your Bible notes or commentaries on the royal law.
2. How do these verses support what James says about the law?
a. Mt. 22:37-40
b. Luke 10:25-37
3. What did Jesus command his followers in John 13:34-35?
4. Sharing Question: As you have studied this week, you have probably recognized a group with which you “play favorites’ and a corresponding group that you treat differently. If you obeyed Jesus’ commandment, what would change today in your attitude or actions toward them?
5. What do you learn about any violations of the law in James 2:8-11?
We don’t think of our laws as connected this way. We speed but aren’t guilty of robbery. So this is hard to understand. Hiebert tries to help us grasp this better: “Our obedience to God’s will cannot be on a selective basis; we cannot choose that part which is to our liking and disregard the rest. God’s will is not fragmentary; the entire Law is the expression of His will for His people; it constitutes a grand unity. . . To violate any part of the God-given Law is an offense against the divine Law-giver.”18
6. Responding to God: Talk to God about your violation of His law, knowing that it is a direct expression of His best for you and an offense against His own person. But realize that in Jesus, all of your sins are forgiven and taken away. Thank God for that truth.
Reread James 2:1-13. Think about the context as we look more closely at vv.12-13.
1. What are we instructed to do?
The word judgment sounds scary. As believers, we know that our sins were judged at the cross because Jesus paid for them. We will never pay for them ourselves. But we also know that we will face judgment.
2. How do these verses help you with this, if they do?
a. Matt. 25:31-46
b. Rom. 2:7-8
c. 1 Cor. 3:9-15
d. 2 Cor. 5:10
Moo says, “God’s gracious acceptance of us does not end our obligation to obey him; it sets it on a new footing. No longer is God’s law a threatening, confining burden. For the will of God now confronts us as a law of liberty—an obligation we discharge in the joyful knowledge that God has both ‘liberated’ us from the penalty of sin and given us, in his Spirit, the power to obey his will.”19
3. Sharing Question: Share your feelings as you consider this quote. Do you really joyfully obey God? On a scale of 1-10, how joyful are you in your obedience? I find that when I focus on God’s grace and love for me, I then have the joy that I should have. How can you increase your focus on Him rather than yourself in a practical way?
Stronger Jeans (optional): Use a concordance, topical Bible, or NET Bible tools to find other New Testament references to judgment and write down what you learn.
4. Responding to God: If a day of judgment came today, what would God say to you, both positive and negative? What things would cause you to shrink back in shame today if Jesus’ returned? Ask God for the grace to obey His law, not out of an attempt to gain his favor, but out of the love you feel because He has freed you!
This week we have two very different stories of prejudice. First, a pastor’s wife shares her story of being judged by her age. The second story concerns the kinds of prejudice that we often encounter in our churches—and our hearts.
Age is a funny thing. For so many years of my life, I wanted to be older. Older so that I could date, drive, go to college, marry, have children, etc. you name it. Older so that people wouldn’t brush me off as too young to know what I was talking about. My husband and I are in ministry. I am the “pastor’s wife”. I recently had a respected Christian woman from a church where we were on staff quip all too easily about my husband and me, “But they are so young, what do they know about ministry?” Here I was again, wishing I was older, so that the women in the church would think my words mattered and my husband respected. When would I ever be old enough? Was it when my kids would be in high school? Or do I have to have an empty nest?
My husband and I have recently been reconnected with the pastor that played a huge role in our spiritual growth in college. He had heard of what the Lord was doing in the church we are now serving. He said some words that have felt so good to hear, “I am proud of you, sincerely. Anybody who stays in the "good fight" even when the devil tries so hard to take us out is worthy of respect...” And there it was…a pastor who mentored us and married us was respecting us. I had to hold back the tears as I realized how much those words meant to me.
We all believe the Lord when He says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (I Samuel 16:7).” But to actually put it into practice is another thing. As much as being dismissed because of my age has hurt me, I am convicted to realize my own tendencies. Do I listen to counsel from a woman younger than me the same way I do an older woman? No, I am ashamed to say that I don’t, and I should. Though age brings with it great experience, it is not the final test as to the worth of someone’s words. If the Lord thought it acceptable to speak through a donkey (Numbers 22:1-38), I must not dismiss the counsel of my younger sisters in Christ.
Right now there is a man who has been coming on and off to the church for worship over the last year and a half. He looks like he doesn't care about his appearance. His hair is wild with a wild beard. He has a belly, and his pants don't hitch up over his belly. He wears old ragged looking t-shirts that don't completely cover his rounded flesh. He has very poor social skills. He had an abusive father, an absent mother, was in the "slow" class in school, and has gone from one manual labor job to another over his working years (he is 45 years old). He is a single person.
When he first came to the church, people were mildly friendly to him. But when he kept coming, and when he started coming to events, Bible studies, and wanted to help with service projects, I noticed people keeping their distance, ignoring him, etc. I have been interested and frustrated at what I have observed. So, it was okay when he was just a strange visitor - but it's not okay when he says, "I want to be part of this family." Granted, he is definitely not the usual kind of guy, who sits in the pews in my rural congregation, and I personally feel a bit uncomfortable around him - but I believe God is stretching this body of believers to truly become the body of Christ.
14 Hiebert, 149.
15 Hiebert, 147.
16 Moo, 106.
17 Moo, 112.
18 Hiebert, 167.
19 Moo, 117.