The Compassionate Life! – James 2:1-10
By Pastor Lee Hemen
May 25, 2014
President Bill Clinton in response to AIDS activist Bob Rafsky at the Laura Belle nightclub in Manhattan, related, “I feel your pain.” It has become the quintessential “touchy-feely” comment of many and the laughing stock of others. There are those who think that humanity has the capability to develop compassion through shear will or a “shift in consciousness”. The Dalai Lama writes, “To be happy, we should devote ourselves to developing our own peace of mind; the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own peace of mind. Therefore, we must develop compassion for others in order to be truly happy.” There is one gigantic problem to this faulty thinking, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”! (Romans 3:23 NIV) and “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8 NIV) We cannot simply delude ourselves into thinking, “Everyday, in every way, I am getting better and better.”
This is a dangerous notion in society that compassion simply means having some kind of nice feelings or empathy with another who is going through a tough time. However, compassion, as defined in Scripture, is not this simplistic notion at all. In fact, James would clarify what I am telling you by stating that if someone says they have compassion and says, “‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” faith has to express itself through actions, and this is what James is building toward. The compassionate life is more than having good feelings. Let’s discover what James teaches us about the compassionate life…
She never met anyone she could not talk to or befriend within just a few moments after meeting them for the first time. Someone quipped, “She has the heart of a missionary.” Her friend responded, “No, she has the heart of a Christian!” And she was correct. James teaches us that the believer is to be color blind, ethnic-empathetic, and display age-equity! We are to see anyone, anywhere, and at anytime with the compassion of Christ. James knew that…
I. A compassionate life is impartial! (Vv. 1-4)
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 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,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4 NIV)
1. The life of a believer is marked by the way they live. They do the things they do not to receive the kudos of others, the applause of the world, nor any recognition whatsoever. They live their lives in Christ to glorify him. This is why James began this section by writing, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ”. He was writing specifically to Christians. As followers of Jesus, who never showed favoritism, often to the chagrin of his disciples, we are not to “show favoritism” either. In fact, James sets up an example they would immediately understand. He relates, “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.” The notion of two differing folks coming to a meeting from such different economic statuses is something that would happen in James’ day, because the disparity of income was so great in his society. Plus, poverty or riches were seen as how God was blessing you personally. So, this is why James continues by asking, “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,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” The rich could afford to keep themselves cleaner, use perfume or assorted anointments to help them smell better. Giving the rich person the best seat was often the custom because they were seen as more blessed by God. But were they? The answer is “NO”. Yet don’t we do the same thing in our day as well? James is trying to teach us that we should never judge others by their outward appearance or their circumstances because the compassionate life is impartial.
EXAMPLE: Jesus never saw people by their status in life, their wealth or poverty, or if they were even Hebrews or not! He viewed folks as God does. Either you knew God or you did not. And you know what? His message has not changed nor how we as his disciples are to view those around us either! Now do not think Jesus ever excused people’s sin, because he never did, but he never was afraid to eat with tax collectors and sinners either. In fact when he heard his disciples were asked why he did, he responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” We are not here for the religious well off, but for those who need to hear the message of God; anyone, anytime, and anyplace. Paul would say, “God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2:11 NIV) The compassionate life is impartial!
Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone knew what his life was about; prestige, power, wealth, and commerce. The good life, or supposedly that’s what others thought, including his father. His father wanted him to be a businessman like himself. But then his son had an encounter with Christ after serving in the military. He humbled himself, wore beggar’s garments, and went on a pilgrimage to serve the poor. Giovanni became the person we know as Francis of Assisi. Francis, like James understood that…
II. A compassionate life understands its position! (Vv. 5-7)
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? 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? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 2:5-7 NIV)
1. James innately understood the concept that God was impartial. There were also those who thought of themselves as spiritually “rich”. James used the premise of those who thought God was partial to those who were well off to slap aside the notion that those who often thought of themselves as spiritually rich were God’s favorites as well. Jesus taught this when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 NIV) Jesus and James understood that your poverty did not make you godlier, but one’s spiritual poverty could because you understood your sin condition. So, James asks, “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?” And the answer would be? “YES! He certainly did!” Those who are unencumbered by the things of life will respond easier to the gospel of God! It demonstrates the standard of righteousness God demands of His people! But, evidently, there were Christians who had “insulted the poor” in spirit. They probably thought that those who thought of themselves as righteous were rich in faith! Yet, it was these very “rich” folks who were “exploiting” literally oppressing them by “dragging” them “into court”! Paul had a similar problem at Corinth. He wrote, “I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19 NIV) Wow! Those we often hold in humanly high regard have no regard for God! James would ask, “Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?” These “rich” lived lives of self-indulgence and looked down in spiritual disdain on those they deemed not worthy! They slandered the One, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8 NIV) James knew that a compassionate life understands its position!
EXAMPLE: I have met those who arrogantly think that simply because of who they are, the money they give, or the position they hold should be treated with greater respect than others in Christ. I will never forget having a leader in the church retort, “Do you realize the amount of money I put into an offering envelop each month?” He was shocked when I responded, “Do you realize your church membership can be mailed in the same envelop?” Paul once had it all, but after meeting Christ on the road to Damascus, realized he was impoverished. He wrote, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:13-15 NIV) James realized that his fellow believers could focus on the wrong things and lose their true spiritual perspective! He wanted to bring them back to reality and remind them that a compassionate life understands its position!
One of the basic needs all human beings is the need to be loved. Loving another can be like a Linus moment in the cartoon strip Charlie Brown after Lucy declared Linus could never be a doctor, he retorts, “I love mankind… it’s people I can’t stand!!” We can also have a psychological need to be loved, so we think we have to have others love us or continually doubt others could ever love us. We are so insecure that we jump from one relationship to the next always seeking that perfect love, however, this is not the love God displays or that which he requires. James knew that…
III. A compassionate life keeps the royal law! (Vv. 8-10)
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:8-10 NIV)
1. Finally, James gets to the core of the issue. He writes, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.” If they were following the two greatest commands of Christ, to love God completely and others as themselves, they were “rich” instead of being spiritually poor! James knew that if they considered themselves “brothers” in the Lord, they were to love God completely and the second command should easily follow! There is no other law known to man that is greater than the Royal Law of God! If we say we love Jesus, we will live like we love Jesus. We will treat others like we love Jesus! “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” It goes back to trying to live a deluded life in Christ. There are those who say they believe in Jesus, they love Jesus, or they are “Christians too” but live and act as if they are spiritually schizophrenic. We are “to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:12 NIV) Far too often we forget “who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” (2 Timothy 1:9 NIV) We are called to love God and others as ourselves; we are not called to do whatever we want when we want to do it and then justify our ungodly actions! James knew the truth. He knew that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” When we say we love Jesus but treat others, especially fellow believers, like garbage we place ourselves not under his grace but under his judgment! If we have greater empathy and more in common with the world than fellow believers, what does this say about our faith? We don’t love others out of guilt, to make ourselves feel better, or in order to do the right thing; we love others because we love God! James realized that a compassionate life keeps the royal law!
EXAMPLE: Why do you do the things you do as a Christian? This would include the good, the bad, and the ugly things as well. It shocked the world to learn that Mother Teresa did a lot of the things she did in her life not just out of her devotion to Christ, but out of total insecurity of her standing with God. Sadly, she constantly wondered if she had done enough for God to love her and thereby sought to do one more thing in order to gain his love. We are called to God so we will see our sin, confess it, and be changed by God’s grace offered to us freely through faith in Christ. Afterwards, we live our faith out of the love of God we have experienced, not guilt, not because of our insecurity, or out of the convoluted notion that God will love us more if we do more good things. If we love God completely; we will love others as ourselves. James realized that a compassionate life keeps the royal law!
A compassionate life is impartial! A compassionate life understands its position! And, a compassionate life keeps the royal law!
This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.