James 2:1 reads, “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.”
James 2:1 opens the sixth paragraph of this epistle with a direct and distinct prohibition against showing “respect of persons.” As such, this prohibition establishes the contextual setting for the rest of the paragraph. Grammatically, this verse presents a Biblical imperative for our daily Christian walk. Furthermore, this Biblical imperative can be divided grammatically into four parts. First, there is the direct address of loving concern for our daily Christian walk – “My brethren.” Second, there is the main clause of spiritual caution for our daily Christian walk – “Have not the faith.” Third, there is the prepositional phrase concerning the established center for our daily Christian walk – “Of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” Finally, there is the prepositional phrase concerning the forbidden characteristic in our daily Christian walk – “With respect of persons.” In this first part of the message, we shall consider the first two of these truths.
The Loving Concern for Our Daily Christian Walk
James, under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, began this Biblical prohibition with the direct address, “My brethren.” Thereby he acknowledged that those to whom he was writing were genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and were fellow brethren in God’s eternal family. Furthermore, he employed this direct address in order to express his loving concern for their daily Christian walk, that they might walk in righteousness before the Lord their God and Savior. Although James was quite forceful in cautioning them against the characteristic of partiality and in confronting their practice of partiality, he desired for them to recognize that this caution and confrontation flowed from a heart of loving concern. Thus in the opening instruction of verse 5, James addressed these believers, saying, “Hearken, my beloved brethren.” They were truly his beloved. His heart was filled with godly love toward them.
Indeed, every spiritual leader should possess just such a heart of loving concern for the daily Christian walk of those whom the Lord God has placed under his care. Even so, in 1 Thessalonians 27-8 the apostle Paul declared unto the believers at Thessalonica, saying, “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.” Again in Galatians 4:19 the apostle Paul proclaimed unto the believers of Galatia, saying, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” Yet again in 1 Corinthians 4:14 the apostle Paul gave report unto the believers at Corinth, saying, “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.” Finally, in 3 John 1:4 the apostle John exclaimed, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” Yet if this is the loving concern of a godly leader, how much more is the loving concern of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for our daily Christian walk!
The Forbidden Characteristic in Our Daily Christian Walk
At the end of James 2:1, the characteristic that is forbidden to our daily Christian walk is revealed in the phrase, “With respect of persons.” Although in the English this phrase is located at the end of the sentence (as is appropriate for the sentence structure in English), in the original Greek this phrase is located at the beginning of the prohibition in order to give it the place of priority emphasis. Thus we might view the prohibition from this perspective – “Do not with respect of persons have the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord our glory.” Even so, this prohibition strongly emphasizes that we must not have this characteristic of showing respect to persons in our lives. Yea, we must not possess this characteristic and practice in our daily walk of faith. Now, the phrase “respect of persons” is translated from a Greek word that combines the noun for “face” and the verb for “receiving,” literally meaning “face-receiving,” or “receiving the face.” As such, this phrase refers to the practice of receiving or rejecting individuals on the basis of external, superficial considerations rather than upon the basis of inner, spiritual character. It is the practice of granting special favor, regard, and respect to others based solely upon such superficial, external circumstances as social status, financial wealth, physical appeal, public popularity, racial distinction, etc. This ungodly characteristic and practice, in any of the various forms that it may take, must never be allowed a place in our hearts and lives. It is utterly and emphatically forbidden.
Indeed, the ungodly characteristic of showing respect to persons is contrary to the practice of the Lord our God Himself. Speaking of the Lord our God as the Sovereign of the word, as the Judge of His people, and as the Provider of the needy, Deuteronomy 10:17-18 pro-claims, “For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: he doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.” Again, speaking of the Lord our God as the righteous Judge of all mankind, Romans 2:11 states, “For there is no respect of persons with God.” Yet again, in exhorting us who are God’s own children to walk in holiness, 1 Peter 1:14-17 gives the instruction and warning, “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” Also in exhorting masters concerning their treatment of their servants, Ephesians 6:9 gives the instruction and warning, “And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; nei-ther is there respect of persons with him.” Likewise, in exhorting servants concerning their service to their masters, Colossians 3:22-25 gives the instruction and warning, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: and whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.”
Furthermore, the ungodly characteristic of showing respect to persons is contrary to the purpose of our Lord’s saving grace. Even so, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ sacrificed His life and shed His blood on the cross for the sake of all mankind. In 1 John 2:2 God’s Word declares, “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Again in 1 Timothy 2:5-6 God’s Word declares, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave him-self a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” Yet again in Hebrews 2:9 God’s Word declares, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” And yet again in Isaiah 53:6 God’s Word declares, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
In the second place, the Lord our God and Savior desires for all to come unto repentance and saving faith. In 2 Peter 3:9 God’s Word declares, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Again in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 God’s Word declares, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” Yet again in John 12:32 our Lord Jesus Christ declared, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” And yet again in John 1:9 God’s Word declares, “That was the true Light [that is – God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ], which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
In the third place, the Lord our God has provided the offer of His saving gospel unto all mankind. In John 3:16-17 God’s Word declares, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” Again in Acts 17:30-31 God’s Word declares, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” Yet again in Romans 10:12-13 God’s Word declares, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And yet again in Mark 16:15 our Lord Jesus Christ gave commandment unto us believers, saying, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
In the fourth place, the saving grace of the Lord our God unifies all of us believers equally in Christ. In Galatians 3:26-28 God’s Word declares, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Again in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 God’s Word declares, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Yet again in Colossians 3:9-11 God’s Word declares, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”
Finally, the ungodly characteristic of showing respect to persons is contrary to the principle of our Lord’s righteous Word. From the wisdom of the Proverbs, Proverbs 24:23 states, “These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment.” Again from the wisdom of the Proverbs, Proverbs 28:21 states, “To have respect of persons is not good: for for a piece of bread that man will transgress.” From the Law of Moses, Leviticus 19:15 declares, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteous-ness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.” Again from the Law of Moses, Deuteronomy 16:19 declares, “Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.” Finally, concerning matters of honor or discipline in the church ministry, 1 Timothy 5:21 proclaims, “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.”
Yet this prohibition against the ungodly characteristic of showing respect to persons does not forbid the Biblically appropriate practice of showing respect and honor unto those to whom it is due according the principles of God’s Word. In the first place, it is Biblically appropriate to show respect unto the elderly. Even so, in Leviticus 19:32 God’s Word declares, “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.” In the second place, it is Biblically appropriate to show honor unto those in governmental authority. Even so, in Romans 13:7 God’s Word declares, “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” In the third place, it is Biblically appropriate to show honor and regard unto those who serve the Lord with great commitment. Even so, in Philippians 2:29-30 declares, “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.” In the fourth place, it is Biblically appropriate to show high regard and respect unto those who faithful leaders in the ministry of the church. Even so, in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13a God’s Word declares, “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.”
In the fifth place, it is Biblically appropriate for husbands to show honor unto their own wives. Even so, in 1 Peter 3:7 God’s Word declares, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” In the sixth place, it is Biblically appropriate for children to show honor unto their parents. Even so, in Ephesians 6:1-3 God’s Word declares, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.” In the seventh place, it is Biblically appropriate for servants to show honor unto their masters. Even so, in 1 Timothy 6:1-2 God’s Word declares, “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.”
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