The Triumph of Mercy
Steve Johnson
James 2:1-13
February 25, 2018

My father used to tell me, something which I should have figured wasn't from him. He says neither borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both self and friend. That key, a quote from Hamlet in a section where Polonius is giving rules of life to Laertes, and Hamlet, actually pulling us or Shakespeare, gives out a few really sensible rules for life now to put it in modern language. So the kids understand it. Okay, this is where the kids should look up here. I'm talking to kids, don't borrow money and don't lend it. Since, when you lend to a friend, you often lose the friend as well as the money. Shakespeare also said in that same section of Hamlet, spend all you can afford on clothes, make sure they're quality, not flashy, since clothes make the man, which is doubly true in France. I don't know why he added that. But Mark Twain put it into terms even more succinctly and humorously. When he said, clothes make the man, naked people have little or no influence on society. We hear it as dress for success, and, there's somebody who's day was just ruined, the fire department going to your house on a Sunday morning, that’s not a good day. On the Psychology Today wrote this. It’s been well-established in the scientific literature and real life that what we wear affects, how others perceive us. Women who wear more masculine clothes to an interview, such as a dress suit, are more likely to get hired. People dressed conservatively are perceived as self-controlled and reliable, while those wearing more daring, clothing are viewed as more attractive and individualistic. Dress for Success, the clothes make the man, without doubt that is true in our society, but while it is true in society, the scripture warns us in no uncertain terms, that in the church we must resist the idea that clothes make the man.

 

Our text this morning is from the Book of James chapter 2, verses 1 to 13. This is the Word of God. My brothers show no partiality, as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord of glory for if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in. And if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say you sit here in a good place, while you say to the poor man, you stand over there or sit down at my feet. Have you not then made distinctions among yourself and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen! My beloved brothers. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich, the ones who oppressed you, and the ones who dragged you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the Honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, you're doing well. And if you show partiality, you are committing sin, and are convicted by the law, as transgressors. Whoever keeps the whole law, but fails in one point has been, become accountable for all of it. For he who said, do not commit adultery, also said, do not murder. If you do not commit adultery, but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law, so speak, and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of Liberty. For judgment is without mercy, to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment, mercy triumphs over judgment. This is the word of Lord.

 

Just as you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Scripture tells us not to judge by appearances, and by so doing, treat people with favoritism. Showing favoritism is not just a social impropriety. James says it is sin, it destroys us and it destroys others. It is a sin rooted in a failure to understand God's mercy. After stating his premise in verse one. Show no partiality as you live out your faith. James goes on, in the next six verses, and he lays out for us, the issue which has faced mankind throughout the ages, and which is especially onerous in the church. We see someone who appears to be rich and we give them preference, we see someone who appears to be poor and we dishonor them. In short, we judge people by appearances. We buy the worldly logic which says, clothes make the man, although there are other reasons to dress up on a Sunday morning. This is one of the reasons that people do. Because there is an implied judgment. If you come to church and you're wearing, well, not your Sunday best, then people look down upon you. We perpetuate within the church a bias and the ensuing discrimination which comes from an attitude which looks at how people have dressed and honors them or dishonors them, greets them or doesn't greet them on that basis. But in the actions of God, we see that he has chosen the poor to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom and at the end of our text for today, we come to understand, that it is God's mercy which directs his actions, and which frees us from the human tendency towards favoritism. So the first lesson we learned from this text is this: God's mercy, gives us the ability to see people, as God sees them, mercy triumphs over judgment. You know, God wasn't forced to choose the poor of the world. He deliberately chose them, when he chose leaders when he chose disciples the apostles he didn't go to the upper crust of society. You know what the upper crust is right. It’s just a bunch of crumbs, held together by their dough. When Jesus chose his disciples. He went with a bunch of average joe's, Peters and John's, and Andrews, just regular guys, fishermen they probably smelled like fish. I can avoid that, and I do avoid it. You come to church and you smell like fish. I might not sit next to you. Jesus invited you in the boat with him. It is God's mercy which allows us to see people, as God sees them and then in turn treat them as God treats them. Although, God recognizes that the rich and powerful appear to have so much more to offer Christ, if appear to have so much more to offer the kingdom, it is the poor who are rich in faith. Do you not on occasion think, wouldn't it be great? If we had a millionaire who attended church, they could take care of all the financial issues of church. They might, we look at the outward appearances and God looks upon the heart, and the heart of the poor, is more inclined to faith than that of the rich, for the poor, have a sustained reliance upon God, which is not necessary for the rich. Because the more money you have in the bank, the less you have to trust upon God. Historically, the poor have given a higher percentage of their income to the church into all charitable, giving than the rich. And, historically far more conflict arises in the church from the demands of the rich than from the needs of the poor. That, in essence, is what James is saying in the first seven verses of our text. We honor the rich, but that the problem is, those are the ones who are causing problem, who are taking us to court. And whether you are rich or whether you're a poor, either way, God sees our hearts, and he sees our need for mercy. And His mercy toward us, gives us then the impetus to have mercy towards others. To see people, as God sees them. We must be honest about what God sees when he looks at us, and in so doing we are more likely to treat people without favoritism. Because God doesn't treat people according to outward appearances. God shows no favoritism. He looks upon people as individuals, not as a class or an ethnicity. He sees us as individuals, prejudiced against others on the basis of their ethnicity or their class, or their wealth, or lack thereof, is a disease of the mind which affects the heart. It is literally a pre-formed opinion, usually unfavorable, based on insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings or inaccurate stereotypes. We are all familiar with what is called social or racial prejudice. More accurately, it should be called ethnic prejudice, since, there is only one human race. There is only one race and God is chosen to redeem people of every nation, of every background and of every economic class of every ethnicity. All from the same human race, God's mercy towards us ought to make us see others through the merciful eyes of God. That’s why James commands us to show no partiality in our faith, because our faith depends upon God's mercy, his mercy towards us, and through that mercy we look at others and lay aside, favoritism. We also see that God's mercy gives us the ability to live under the law of Liberty.

 

Beginning in verse 8 of our text, James, introduces and talks about what he calls the Royal law, which he conveniently reminds us is. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. So if someone says what has the Royal law James gives the answer, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, and he goes on and says: if you do this, you do well, which is what you would expect. But many of us want to draw the line about who our neighbors are, to include only those who are in our own economic class or our own ethnic group? In short, we want to love people who are like us. Years ago I overheard a conversation in this church. I had befriended a doctor in town and I invited him to attend here, and lo and behold he did, he was met at the door by a greeter and when the greeter found that he was a doctor, she brought bluntly asked this. What are you doing here? This is not a Church doctors go to. This is a church for poor people, she's not being agreed of that week. Now here's an idea, if you're a greeter and someone comes whether they are rich or poor, black or white, whether they are good-looking or they look like me - make them welcome, tell them we're glad you're here. You see, discrimination can go both directions. Discrimination goes against the greatest of all Commandments. Not only that, but by discriminating we break all of God's law. Look again at what the text says beginning in verse. 9. If you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors and then James explains for us, the basic equality of sin. Sin is sin. If you show partiality, it's no different than breaking the law about adultery. If you commit adultery, it's no different than breaking the law about murder. If you murder is no different than breaking the law in all of its commands, if you keep the whole law, if you're perfect in every way, save one, just one little thing, you are imperfect and you have broken the law, you're in need of redemption. If you are righteous in all your ways, but you tell a little white lie, you are a law breaker. You are as guilty as the one who breaks every commandment. Now, this does not give you the freedom to sin boldly, because well, if I'm going to tell a white lie, I might as well tell a big black lie or red lie or green lie, I don’t know why we have colors on them, because you know there's no such thing as A white sin: it's all sin, and when scripture talks about being cleansed, he doesn't, you know be cleansed and you'll be blacker than dirt. He says you'll be whiter than snow and there's a sense of whiteness being good, and so the concept of a white lie is kind of a surge scripturally. The law is a boundary line and it doesn't matter where you cross the line, whether you cross the line at murder or adultery or favoritism. It doesn't matter, even if you cross the line at prejudging someone you are as guilty as if you had murdered someone or committed adultery. That’s how serious God sees partiality, that's how serious God sees it when we choose to look upon a person with favoritism because of their pocketbook and in verse 12 James puts the rubber to the road, he says so speak and so act as those who are to Be judged under the law of Liberty. I don't know, I thought we were talking about the Royal law. What’s this law of Liberty? Just drops it in here, he doesn't explain it too well, but the law of Liberty is the law of love controlled by mercy. The law of love through which God's mercy has set his people free. For he loved us so much, that while we were still embedded in sin, he sent his son to die for us, to fulfill the demands of the law so that we could live in Liberty. The law of Liberty is that law which drives us to seek to be Christ-like, to love the unlovable, to serve one another, to forgive one another, to demonstrate compassion and understanding towards one another. We are released from the burden of self-righteousness. We recognize that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and that includes us, and out of that understanding we see our mutual need, and the glorious gift, of God in Christ Jesus who paid the penalty for our sin. We then come to Christ, rich and poor, young and old, black and white needing the same cleansing blood. We live in the freedom of the law of Liberty, because Christ has set us free from the standards of the world which so focus upon outward appearances. Instead, we see one another through the eyes of Mercy. God’s mercy towards us, allows us to see one another, as God sees us, and because God's mercy has been extended to us, we can live in a law of Liberty, extending mercy to others. Finally, God's mercy gives us the ability to look forward to the coming of Christ. I want to go home. I want to go home, because, in the promise of the return of Christ is all that we hope for. In first Peter, we read of this blessed hope. The Living Hope, the anticipated future and part of the Christian message is that we have this anticipated future, which fills us with hope which enables us to look forward to the coming of Christ. I was somewhat amazed at the vitriol toward which many in our society treated the homegoing of Billy Graham. One person saying well, you can just go to a chi double hockey stick. That's a media which lifts up people like Hugh Hefner and denigrates someone like Billy Graham. That's really really twisted, not that Billy Graham was perfect, but he is now. James makes clear the fact that, with the appearing of Christ, we will all face judgment, verse 12, so speak and act as those who are to be judged under the law of Liberty. For those who accepted faith in Christ, we will pass through the pearly gates and enter into heaven, but we will also face a further judgment. Teachers will be judged more severely for how they have taught. All of us will be judged for every careless word, which comes out of our mouth. In this text we are told we will be judged according to the mercy with which we have treated others, for judgment without mercy. The judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. That’s verse 13. If you don't show mercy, God's, less likely to show you mercy. This is not a new idea. In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus says: if you don't forgive, you won't be forgiven. The note here that we need to put into our brain is that God is going to expect that we have treated others the same way he treated us. We will grant mercy; we will grant forgiveness. I don't know how this works, I don't fully understand it, because I want to say: well, I'm forgiven, I'm getting to heaven and just because of the blood of Jesus Christ, and then we see James say, but if you don't show mercy, you're, not gonna receive mercy. I'm guessing for some of us we're gonna be living in a shack someplace in there in heaven. Some of us are gonna drive Volkswagens, and some of us are gonna drive Tesla's. In some way, God has connected our actions on earth, with his response to us in heaven. In one sense, we received mercy of God when he lets us into heaven, but James is writing to believers. He’s not writing to unbelievers. He’s writing to those of us who already have our golden ticket, and to them, to us. He says there will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others, but then he adds this word of encouragement. He says mercy triumphs over judgment. If you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you, mercy is precisely what the believers were not showing when they insulted the poor. It’s an excellent statement, of the New Testament ethics. What we do to others, we actually do to God and he returns it upon our heads. We stand before God in need of his mercy. We can't earn forgiveness by forgiving others. We can't earn his mercy by being merciful, but when we withhold forgiveness from others having received it ourselves, we show that we don't understand or appreciate God's mercy toward us, but when we live lives full of mercy towards others, when we live a life of forgiveness, of hope, of compassion, of non-partiality, we can eagerly look forward to the coming of Christ when we are judged on the law of Liberty, where mercy is granted to the merciful, because mercy triumphs over judgment. Now, it's easy for us to conclude in a self-reflection of our lives that we don't show favoritism we're pretty good on that. We don't really look at one person and think better of them because of the way they dress, but we're pretty good at fooling ourselves. We’re pretty good at just kind of avoiding the people that aren't like us that aren't a part of our inner circle. It’s a natural tendency of humanity, James says, put aside partiality, treat everyone you meet, the way you believe God would treat them and the way God treated the people of his day, who were caught in sin was with mercy, and he tried to draw them closer to himself, because God loves all of us. The rich, the poor, the black, the white, the Hispanic, the Indian every one of us is loved by God and therefore we, as representative of Christ on this earth, should love one another equally without partiality. Mercy triumphs over judgment. Let’s pray.

Our gracious Father, remove from us the defenses, which caused us to find our own impartiality acceptable and help us to reflect the mercy of God, in order that others might come to know you as their Savior. And that we might have a taste of heaven in Your church today. Amen. Well, now, may the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you, lift up his countenance upon you and give you a peace that passes all understanding, a joy that comes from knowing you are his beloved. Amen.