Mercy is Better Than Judgment (James 2:8-13)

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God loves mercy. God hates sin and must punish it because He is a just God. But God is also love. God’s love moves Him to show mercy to sinners who humbly repent and turn to Him in faith. God takes no pleasure in the death and eternal punishment of those who reject His offer of salvation through Jesus. Christians are people who have received God’s mercy of free pardon for all their sins. The natural response to God’s mercy towards us is that we should be merciful people who are quick to love and forgive others who have done us wrong. Part of being merciful is not giving special treatment to people by loving only those we like and then withholding love from people we don’t like.

This is James’ logic in today’s passage where he urges Christians to avoid judging others and committing the sin of favoritism. When we favor some people and not others, we are not loving people with fairness as we should. We are sinning by not loving ALL of our neighbors as ourselves. And we know as Christians that even one sin is enough to make us guilty before God Almighty, the great Judge of every person who has ever lived. We want God Our Judge to pardon us and give us mercy and forgiveness. We want His “mercy” to “triumph over [His] judgment” when it comes to how he treats us. In the same way, therefore, our mercy towards others should win out over our desire to judge them for their wrongs. May we all receive God’s mercy by faith and be willing to show that mercy to ALL of those we encounter.

The Text

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. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Questions to Think About

  1. Why is favoritism a sin?
  2. How are you doing at loving your friends? How about your enemies?
  3. In what ways have you experienced God’s mercy in your life?
  4. Are you a merciful person? Would your friends and family call you merciful?

The Sin of Favoritism (James 2:1-7)

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The parents of one of my old high school friends used to counsel us, “There are 3 types of people you will meet in life: 1) People who like you, 2) People who don’t like you, and 3) People who don’t care. Focus on the first group and don’t waste your time on the other two.” That was sound advice and it actually seems kind of obvious when I think about it today. Why would we worry about what people who don’t like us think? Why would we want to be around people who don’t care about us? But as we see in today’s passage in James, our fallen sinful nature often craves the popularity of being part of the “in crowd,” even if that crowd is not very nice to us or others. And because money buys stuff that others want as well as power and status, the “in crowd” can often be the rich.

James asks us to consider whether or not we give special favor and attention to people who are rich while at the same time ignoring and looking down upon those who are poor. If we do, then we are guilty of a very great and foolish sin in God’s sight. It is a great sin because God does not show such favoritism to people. God judges people by their character and their faith, not their material possessions. If anything, being rich is more often an obstacle to a person’s salvation because the rich tend to be self-reliant and unable to see their need for God. It was the poor who flocked to see Jesus in His day and enter His kingdom much more so than the rich, and this has continued to be the case for 2,000 years of church history. Favoring the rich is also a foolish sin because the rich are the ones more likely than the poor to mistreat and ignore us and our Savior. We are wasting our attention and affections on those people who don’t like us and our faith or who don’t care about us one way or the other. May we repent of our evil desires to be accepted by the “in crowd” and instead choose the better fellowship of the humble who walk with Jesus.

The Text (James 2:1-7)

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old 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?

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? 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? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

Questions to Think About

  1. Do you ever struggle with wanting to be part of the “in crowd”? Why or why not?
  2. Do you ever find yourself admiring students who seem to have more money and stuff than you? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think the amount of money and stuff you own and the lifestyle you live have made it easier or more difficult to follow Christ? Explain.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

True Religion (James 1:26-27)

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As we saw in the last post, God does not have much respect for big talkers who don’t practice what they say they believe. Today in the end of James 1 we see some specific examples of what it looks like to be “doers and not just hearers” of God’s commands. First, Christians who are truly walking with Jesus will have control over their words. They will not let harmful gossip, angry comments, or filthy language pour out from their mouths. Why? Because evil words reveal an evil heart that is far away from God. Second, real Christians care for other people, not just for themselves. This is particularly seen in taking care of orphans, or children without parents, and widows, meaning women without husbands. God has a special compassion for helpless and needy people like these, and so should we as Christians. Finally, true religion in God’s eyes is to stay pure in our thoughts, words, and actions. Some stuff in this world is just plain wicked and wrong. Blatant and obvious sin should offend and hurt our consciences as Christians. We should make every effort to avoid every form of evil as much as we can so that we can keep clean and close with God. Jesus taught that it is the pure in heart who will see God.

Only two verses for today, but they pack a powerful punch! Today’s Scripture shoots us right in the heart like a spiritual laser. Most of us talk too much and too carelessly. Few of us care for the needy people around us as we should. All of us could do better at avoiding sin and worldliness. My prayer is that we would let God’s Word do its work of sanctification today. May His Spirit keep making our words, deeds, and thoughts more holy so that we might become more perfect like our Father in heaven. In the end, His opinion of our religion is the only one that really matters.

The Text (James 1:26-27)

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Questions to Think About

  1. Do you think you talk too much? Would your friends and family say you talk too much? Explain.
  2. Why do you think it is important for Christians to have self-control with their words?
  3. Does your church do anything to take care of literal orphans (no living parents) and widows (no living spouses)? How about spiritual orphans (no Christian parents) and widows (no Christian spouses)? Do you do anything to help care for people in need?
  4. How can Christians keep themselves from “being polluted by the world?” What would that look like in our daily lives?

Deeds and Words (James 1:22-25)

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My brother is a sergeant first class in the army. He has served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point in his life, he was a drill sergeant. He would do morning PT with his “grunts” who “weren’t getting any older” and then work out in the gym on his own in the afternoons. The last time he and I worked out together, he pushed me so hard that I could not lift a hamburger that night at dinner. He is a no-nonsense kind of guy. One of his favorite sayings is, “Deeds, not words.” This phrase is an English translation of a popular Latin motto used by Roman soldiers, the original no-nonsense tough guys in world history.  And this mantra perfectly captures James’ message for us in today’s passage.

God does not want us to just listen to His Word or even talk about it, but to do it, to apply it to our everyday lives. As Christians, our motto should be “Deeds and words.” It is important for us study the Bible and listen to it preached and taught. And it is important for us to talk about our faith with other believers and to share it humbly with non-Christians. But we also need to put our beliefs into action. We don’t want to be people who read or hear God’s Word and then ignore the voice of the Spirit applying it to our lives. James says such foolishness is like people looking into a mirror but then forgetting their own faces! Can you imagine seeing crazy hair or dirty skin in the mirror in the morning but then not using a brush or washcloth to fix the problem? It would be ridiculous! In the same way, if we know that God’s Word has spoken to an area of sin in our lives that we need to repent of, or guided us to an action that we need to take, and then we don’t obey God’s voice, we are acting like fools. The wise person listens carefully to what God’s Word has to say and then does it. Such people find the joys and blessings of faithfully following Christ. Don’t you want to be a wise and blessed person today? May all lead lives filled with deeds of faith that back up our words of faith.

The Text (James 1:22-26)

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Questions to Think About

  1. How do careful listeners act during church and chapel messages, homeroom devotions, and Bible class lessons? Are you a careful listener? Why or why not?
  2. In what ways has God’s Word spoken to you in the past month? Can you think of any specific areas of sin that God’s Word has convicted you to repent of? Can you think of any specific commands that God’s Word challenged you to obey? Explain.
  3. Are there any areas of life where your deeds do not match your words right now? How can you make changes to get your talk to back up your walk in those areas?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Be Humble and Pure, Not Full of Rage (James 1:19-21)

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Anger is rarely a good thing. Usually, this powerful emotion leads us to be harsh, mean, and even violent towards our friends, family, and neighbors. An “anger problem” is a “sin problem” with very serious consequences. Rage can cause us to lose control of our words and actions so that we say and do things that hurt others and our relationships with them. That is why James warns use today that we should all be “slow to speak and slow to become angry.” If you struggle with a quick and sharp temper, than one clear way that God wants to transform your character and conform you to the image of Christ is by helping you to get your rage under the control of the Holy Spirit’s peaceful influence. Our anger does not accomplish God’s will of promoting love, joy, and unity among believers. Our anger does not provide an attractive witness to lost people to persuade them to want to be Christians. Instead, our tainted “human anger” produces “moral filth and evil.” God wants us to repent of our anger and be kind, forgiving, and self-controlled.

How can a person win victory over their rage? By humbly, regularly receiving God’s Word into a heart that has been softened by the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus. When we listen with open minds and hearts during church and chapel sermons, Bible class lessons, and homeroom devotions, we allow the Holy Spirit to slowly transform our hearts away from selfish anger and towards kindness and love. When we read our Bibles on our own and listen to Christian songs with solid doctrine, the Holy Spirit cuts into our anger-hardened hearts like a hot knife through butter. As we walk humbly with Jesus and listen to His words instead of our selfish desires, we gradually find ourselves experiencing his peace that surpasses all understanding. So for all you rage monsters and even occasional top blowers out there, let God’s Word soften your heart today to keep repenting of your anger and pride and submitting to God’s will of peace for your life.

The Text – James 1:19-21

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Questions to Think About

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being “Not at All” and 10 being “All the Time,” how much would you say that you struggle with sinful anger? Explain your answer.
  2. Can you think of a time when you became really angry and said or did things that you later regretted? What happened?
  3. When you hear God’s Word at church and at chapel, how do you receive it? Do you listen closely with an open heart wanting to know and do God’s will, or do you usually ignore the message and think about other things? Explain.