Calvary Road Baptist Church

“LIVING FAITH SHOWS COMPASSION”

James 2.1-13

We are in the letter written by James, considering his tests of genuine faith. Initially written for the benefit of Christians who had been scattered by persecution, there is also much for us to be found in this first New Testament book to be written. As their former pastor ministers to them by means of this inspired letter circulated throughout the region to which they had fled to avoid persecution, we recognize that James was not much impressed when someone simply professed to be a Christian. What passes for faith among so many unsaved “Christians” of this world we presently live in, as well as the sentimentalists who seem to successfully pass themselves off as Christians but who ignore the Word of God, find themselves in the cross hairs of James’ inspired scrutiny. Pastor James asserted that real faith, genuine faith, living faith, behaves in a certain, predictable way. I have termed it fruit. It is the fruit of living faith that we are paying attention to this morning. May I remind you along the way that the fact James is examining and testing real faith implies the existence of bogus faith, counterfeit faith, faith that is not real and that does not save?

In the first chapter, we discovered that living faith produces predictable kinds of behavior. When genuine faith is tempted, to use the word James employs, when it is tested by circumstances or enticed by our own inner lusts, faith tends to respond properly. Genuine faith will exhibit patience when tested, will respond with prayers for wisdom to cope, and will not erroneously blame God for temptations to commit sin. Faith will not rationalize by saying, “It cannot be wrong, God made me this way.” Additionally, when confronted with the truth of God’s Word, genuine faith predictably lays apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, so the believer is prepared to receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls. As well, genuine faith responds to the exhortation to be a doer of the Word, and not a hearer only, deceiving your own selves. A doer is one who is obedient.

Recognize that even the most sincere faith does not perfectly react in the ways James describes. However, faith is teachable, does increasingly respond to challenges and to the Word of God as the believer’s faith is strengthened, and as the Christian grows in grace, in the knowledge of God, and with maturity over time. However, this side of heaven no Christian is done, for as the Apostle Paul wrote, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect,” and in another place, “for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.”[1] As we shall see today, there are other predictable responses one can expect from living faith. Living faith serves God, ministers to other people, with compassion. Turn at this time to James 2.1. When you find that verse, please stand and read silently while I read aloud:

1      My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.

2      For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;

3      And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:

4      Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

5      Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

6      But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?

7      Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?

8      If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:

9      But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

10     For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

11     For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

12     So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

13     For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

Step back in time with me to the first century AD, about forty years after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and His ascension to the Father’s right hand in glory. You are in a port city on the Mediterranean coast, far from your place of birth, and very lonely. Though you are a free man, you are very poor and near starvation. It is difficult to obtain work because the guilds control all skills and trade in the city and they do not admit strangers. Beggars cannot be choosers, so when a very kind fellow offers you a crust of bread, you are both astonished and grateful. After a few minutes of conversation, he indicates he is on his way to a gathering of friends and asks you to join him. Though you are a bit suspicious of his kindness, your loneliness and need to meet people in the hopes of finding work persuades you to go with him. Entering a rather small room, you are overwhelmed by the kindness of those already there. Though you are a stranger, and wearing rags, you are surprised that you are treated with respect and kindness as they move to make a place for you to sit.

Welcome to the beginning of the modern era, the era made possible by Christianity. Throughout the known world and likely beyond, ethnic, cultural, and racial discrimination has always been a way of life for most people. Anyone who is different is considered as other until the Lord Jesus Christ taught His parable of the good Samaritan and its lesson of broadening the concept of neighbor to include anyone at hand in need. The problem, of course, is that all men are sinful, none of us is righteous, and none of us does good, no not one.[2] Only one illustration of this sinfulness was the tendency of early Jewish Christians to discriminate against Gentiles for being culturally different and for committing different kinds of sins than they had grown accustomed to. The result was a tendency to show favoritism (prejudice by another name) based upon appearance, just like everyone else on the planet. However, our inspired writer James will have none of it. As a result of what he had written to this small congregation, you are welcomed to their gathering though a stranger, and you are treated the same as the other visitor who is dressed in expensive clothing. In practical terms, this is the beginning of the war against racial, ethnic, and national discrimination as acceptable behavior. Implementation of this Christian ideal has, of course, not yet been fully realized.

Before Christ and before Christians, it used to be so much worse than it is today. Of course, the reason such conduct has not been eradicated from the human race is because we are all sinners. However, the grace of God that is extended to all men through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, urges upon God’s people a better way, the way of compassionate Christianity.

Three main points in the development of this concept as it relates to an acceptance of people by Christians:

First, COURTESY TO ALL

James encourages courtesy to one and all by prohibiting partiality, by illustrating partiality, and then by revealing the true nature of partiality:

In verse one, also our text last Sunday morning, we see James’ prohibition of partiality: “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.” Consider this phrase “respect of persons.” What do you think James means by the phrase? Most people think it means to treat people differently, and that if you do not treat everyone the same you are guilty of being a respecter of persons. Is that true? The Apostle Peter declared that God is no respecter of persons, but does He treat everyone the same?[3] Of course not! Being no respecter of persons does not mean treating everyone the same way. It means something else entirely. Strictly speaking, this phrase refers to accepting the outwardly visible for the inner reality, the mask for the person.[4] We know God does not do that, because we are told in First Samuel 16.7 that “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”

In verses 2 and 3, James provides us with an illustration of partiality:

2      For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;

3      And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool.

Before we consider the partiality illustration, may I point out something too obvious to ignore concerning those visiting the public worship of Christians in the first century? According to verse 3, they are told where to sit: “Sit thou here” and “Stand thou there.” If this seems horrible to some people, consider the Lord Jesus Christ’s practice of dealing with gatherings. In Mark 6.39-40, notice our Lord’s directions when preparing to feed the multitudes:

39     And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass.

40     And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties.

Providing some order when people gather, with ushers seating people, is therefore not without precedent. Such a practice should not be presumed to be in any way discourteous to visitors. That said, notice what is discourteous, James’ example of what being a respecter of persons is. Two men enter the place of worship. One of the ushers notices that the one man smells nice and looks nice, so he sits him in a place he thinks is appropriate for such a high-class person. Another man comes in, and not only does he appear to be poor, his clothes are absolutely vile. The usher seats or stands the poor man in a humiliating place, because of his outward appearance. Whatever it is to be a respecter of persons, that usher just did it.

What was so wrong with the actions of the usher? We see in verse 4, where the true nature of partiality is exposed for all to see: “Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?” The word “partial” means divided.[5] The usher who was illustrated in verses 2 and 3, divided in himself. In other words, he made the decision how the two different visitors were to be treated. On what basis did he make such a judgment? He became a judge exhibiting his evil thoughts. There is no sin in treating folks differently, so long as your different treatment of folks is the result of God’s direction. Do I treat some strange woman the same way I treat my wife? I certainly hope not! I treat my wife differently because I am directed to and because I am permitted to do so by God. No such permission was given to treat these men differently by God, in a place where He was to be worshiped, according to how much money he apparently made or how fine his garments were judged to be. Here is a wonderful example showing that God provides direction concerning how He is to be worshiped, and deviation from His direction for worshiping Him is not appropriate. When you decide on your own to treat people differently, because of judgments that you make in your own wicked heart, you are a respecter of persons. Being a respecter of persons in the context of worshiping the one true and living God is seriously sinful. The reason God is no respecter of persons is twofold: First, God does not have a wicked heart, but always deals with His creatures from the purest motives. Second, God never treats a person according to that person’s worth, because the reality is that no one is worthy. God’s favors toward you and me, which the Bible labels God’s grace, has nothing to do with our personal worth. Therefore, since God recognizes no personal worth in you or in me, by what right do you behave toward others based on any perceived worth you judge they do or do not possess? The proper response, of course, is to treat all with courtesy. Courtesy is not the same as sanctioning someone’s sins. You can be nice to everyone.

Second, COMPASSION FOR ALL

James is so much as saying, “Let us subject this judgmental attitude, which results in favoring rich folks who visit your gathered worship from time to time, to a little scrutiny.”

He begins by asking what is God’s attitude toward the poor, verse 5: “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” Though many of the patriarchs of the past were men God blessed with great wealth, such as Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon, there is no doubt from the evidence found in God’s Word that He most assuredly loves the poor. The Apostle Paul points out that the poor are more likely to realize their need of Christ and be saved than those of high station. This is found in First Corinthians l.26-29:

26     For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

27     But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

28     And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

29     That no flesh should glory in his presence.

In light of what we have just read, you should consider what your attitude is toward the poor. The first half of James 2.6 reads, “But ye have despised the poor.” James levels a very serious accusation against the Christians he used to preach to and teach God’s Word to. I hope no one here is guilty of despising the poor. How many moms do not want their children sitting next to poor people in church? How many of you will ever go to where poor people are likely to be? I am not saying that you should intentionally and unwisely place yourself in danger by going into rough parts of town at night. However, those who are well off oftentimes feel uncomfortable around those who are not well off, for the wrong reasons. The starting place for the equitable treatment of all people is the assembly of Christians for the worship of God. The basis for the equitable treatment of all people, be they rich or poor, is our Lord Jesus Christ, who commands that it be so. Are Christians always perfect in our obedience in this regard? No. However, Christians who are not compassionate toward all men are disobedient.

What is the attitude of the wealthy toward we who are believers? Verse 6 ends with these words: “Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?” Notice, that though the tendency is to show favoritism to a visitor who appears to be wealthy, those who are wealthy typically reciprocate by mistreating Christians and sometimes taking them before judges in courts of law. Recognize that James is not indicting every wealthy person. However, the tendency is for those in our fallen race who have the power that derives from wealth to misuse that power for selfish ends. That generalization is legitimate because it is a generalization made by inspiration of God, and both the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy believer need to keep that tendency of the rich in mind.

Why do the wealthy sometimes abuse their position? Because of their attitude toward God, verse 7: “Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” Excuse me, but blasphemy is talking down about God or His Son. Biblical Christianity seems so unsophisticated, at times, does it not? See what James is telling the reader? This tendency to highly esteem folks who have money and lightly esteem those who do not, purely for economic considerations, is foolish. They typically badmouth our God and our Savior. He points out that if you are going to start generalizing and categorizing groups, it is the wealthy that come up short. Far better to deal with each person as an individual. Therefore, the default setting for every Christian with respect to his initial treatment of those he encounters, especially in a place of worship, should be compassion, something previously an unknown norm in human history.

In verse 8, James describes commendable behavior: “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.” Here James judges the tendency to judge, by first commending its opposite. I am persuaded James identifies Christ’s command to love thy neighbor as thyself as “the royal law” because he refers to Christians back in verse 5 as “heirs of the kingdom.” Being an heir means, we have an inheritance. From whom do Christians inherit what awaits us? From the King of kings, making His directives royal edicts, the royal law. Apparently, being a respecter of persons, being partial, being discriminating with regard to personal estimations of a person’s worth . . . is not love. Also apparently, living faith takes God at His Word, that all men are objects of God’s love . . . and God loves all men, with specific exceptions for cause. Love, then, should be our hallmark. As the Savior said in John 13.35, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” This love should also extend to our neighbors, whether or not they happen to be Christians.

Judgmentalism, on the other hand, is sin according to verse 9: “But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.” If you are a respecter of persons, you are in violation of God’s law as a transgressor and you commit sin. Christians committing sins? Is that not hypocrisy? No, it is not hypocrisy, since the Christian does, by his claim that he is a Christian; admit to his ongoing sinfulness and inability to save himself. A Christian sinning is not a hypocrite. A Christian sinning is a Christian sinning. Hypocrisy would be denying you are a sinner and then sinning, something no real Christian does even when he sins. Here in verse 9, James touches on what is taught elsewhere in the New Testament, that no one can have a relationship with God based upon his good deeds, since there is no human being capable of performing such good deeds. The Christian is rightly seen to be a sinner who admits his sinfulness and inability to cope with his own sins, while casting himself on our sufficient Savior from sins, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the living God.

Finally, CONSISTENCY IN ALL

James concludes his correction of the Christians he is writing to with four statements:

In verse 10, the principle is stated: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” James is telling his readers that the law is a unit. Because the law is a complete unit, you cannot violate one aspect of the law without violating it all. It is all or nothing. The chain is a good example. Break only one, small, link, and you still break the whole chain. Thus, it is with the law of God. Is it not interesting that James is clarifying to his Christian readers that whenever a Christian violates a single aspect of God’s law he has broken the entire law? Yet I have pointed out that Christians not only sin repeatedly, by our profession of Christianity we are admitting that we sin: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” First John 1.8. “Pastor, if what you say is correct, then Christians are no better than any other kind of sinner.” My friend, you fully understand the implications of James’ argument. How dare we act all superior to someone who comes into our worship service when we are no better than he is, despite his position? Not that there is not a profound distinction to be made between the Christian and the non-Christian, because there is. However, it is not a difference based upon superiority. Rather, it is a difference based upon faith and forgiveness. The sinner with a faith relationship with Jesus Christ is not better than any other sinner, just forgiven, with an altered destiny, and with well-placed hope of his place in eternity after his life on earth.

In verse 11, the illustration is stated: “For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” Here James points out the same thing I just said. Violate one prohibition and you violate the whole law. Thus, we see that judgmentalism cannot stand up under close scrutiny, since all are sinners.

In verse 12, James encourages consistency in the treatment of others by making a statement that exhorts his readers concerning their own future: “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.” Do right, Christian. Display compassion toward everyone, which is consistency. Love your fellow man, regardless of his station in life. Realize that men are objects of God’s love and are, therefore, worthy of your love. One of the motives to comply? Future judgment. There is a judgment that awaits every man. For the man who dies without knowing Jesus Christ, that judgment will be before the Great White Throne to determine the severity of his eternal damnation.[6] The man who has trusted Christ, however, will be judged for his faithful service to Christ, after he became a Christian, to ascertain his rewards in heaven.[7]

James also encourages consistent compassion toward all by stating an explanation, verse 13: “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” You know what this is? This is the law of sowing and reaping applied to the showing of mercy toward other people. What goes around comes around. Show mercy toward others and receive mercy from God. However, if you show no mercy you will receive no mercy. Do you think a Christian can be motivated, and encouraged, to demonstrate mercy if he really believes that God will judge him someday for not showing mercy? Sure, he will. How about if he is reminded that the law of sowing and reaping applies? Again, sure he will. However, being told God is going to do something and then acting on it requires this thing the Bible calls faith, does it not? Sure. It is real faith. It is genuine faith. It is living faith.

Christian, you can decide how you ought to treat other people in two ways. You can observe them, gather information through the eye gate, the ear gate, and the nose gate . . . and then make a decision based upon your experience and the information that is available to you. Or, you can decide to do things God’s way . . . by faith. The former way is walking by sight. On the other hand, when you treat people according to the dictates of God’s Word, you are walking by faith. What are the dictates of God’s Word? Everyone starts out equally lost, equally in need of salvation, equally unable to approach God, and equally unwilling to meet God on His terms. At the same time, all are loved by God, Who is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. To accomplish that, and to help folks to become receptive to the good news that Jesus saves from sins, we are to be courteous to all, to treat all with compassion, and to do so consistently.

These things understood, how do you treat folks, especially in church? As fellow members of a fallen race, in need of God’s mercy and grace? God loves them and so should you, without regard to station or position in life. Is that not correct? Arrive early enough to church to be a blessing, and then stay long enough after church to be a blessing to someone.

There will come times when some men’s behavior warrants that you treat them differently than you would others. However, so long as your treatment of such folks is in accordance with God’s Word, you are not guilty of being a respecter of men. I treat my wife differently than I do others, but that is because God allows me, commands me, to do so. I treat the man who tries to break into my house differently than I treat someone who knocks at my door. And on it goes. Such distinctions are appropriate.

How about you? Are you a respecter of persons? Do you treat men and women differently than God’s Word says you should? If you do, you should recognize that such behavior does not reflect living faith. Maybe you need some real faith in Christ, which will produce in your life the fruit of faith, which shows courtesy and compassion as an expression of mercy toward others, and grows to show such mercy consistently.



[1] Philippians 3.12; Romans 7.15

[2] Romans 3.23, 10, 12

[3] Acts 10.34

[4] Joseph B. Mayer, The Epistle Of James, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1990), page (388)78.

[5] Ibid., page (395)85.

[6] Revelation 20.11-15

[7] Romans 14.10; 1 Corinthians 3.9-17; 2 Corinthians 5.10-11



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org