Summary: Consistent faith is impartial Consistent faith is active Consistent faith is REAL!
James Ch 2:1-26
If you are interested in politics, the last few weeks and months have been quite interesting. And it has culminated with the Crewe and Nantwich by-election last week, in which the substantial majority of Gwyneth Dunwoody was completely reversed by the success of the Conservative candidate.
And what we have heard from the Labour government ministers is that they understand that the by-election result was a message to them, and that they are listening to what people say. They say that they understand that people are concerned about the problems of the 10p tax rate and concerns about the economy.
And whilst some elements of this may be true, I think the fundamental concerns of many people when faced with politicians is a real concern about their integrity and consistency. Politicians seem to be coming very close to estate agents in the nations’ unpopularity ratings. And it seems to me that this is fundamentally about issues of trust, consistency, and integrity. Or the lack of them.
Now I’m not here to make a political statement or speech, but this issue of integrity and consistency is very important. And it is very important to us as Christians. Integrity is important to us as people who follow Christ. For the way that we live must be consistent with what we preach. The way our life is acted out must be consistent with the faith that we profess.
And this is not an issue that is specific to us today. Because it is the issue that is at the heart of our reading today from the letter of James. James 2:1-26 (page 1214)
On Monday evening, a number of men from the village meet at the Westcote Inn for an hour or so, for a drink and a chat. We all have our favourite beers, and I can tell you that Trevor very much likes a point of Black Sheep bitter. That is his favourite, and that is perfectly reasonable and understandable.
The problem arises when our favourites are not beer, but they are people. For then favourites can very quickly move on to become favouritism. And then a completely different set of motivations and emotions start to take effect. Some of the synonyms for favouritism helped us to understand just what it’s all about. Words such as bias, discrimination, nepotism, partiality, preferential treatment, bigotry, and prejudice help us get to understand the problems of favouritism. And it is not long before shady deals are done, and cash changes hands in exchange for a peerage.
consistent faith is impartial
And this is what James is warning about in this part of his letter. He is saying quite clearly that ’ consistent faith is impartial’. That is the starting point of this part of his letter. It is absolutely clear. V1 ‘show no favouritism’ (NIV) ’show no partiality’ (RSV). And to make the point absolutely clear, James gives the extreme example of how people behave to those who are wealthy and well dressed, compared with those who are shabby and smelly. James says ‘show no partiality’. And of course he is right. We shouldn’t do that. And we would hope that most normal people would not show partiality. But for James the point is that those who ’hold the faith’ should not show partiality. What he says in v1 is that ’as believers in our glorious lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism’. So it is not just that favouritism is a generally bad thing. It is that as believers it is the wrong thing to do. It is not that it is just a mildly unhelpful thing, but that as believers it is the wrong thing to do. More than that, in v9 James describes it as a sin. For in the faith we are all equal before God. In the faith we should love our neighbour as ourselves - James described that as a royal law v 8. It’s pretty important. As believers, we are all equal before God. As believers, we should love each other as much as we love ourselves. As believers in a faith like that, then it is completely inconsistent to show favouritism. As believers in a faith like that, it is completely lacking in integrity to show favouritism, to show partiality. So James is saying very clearly that the consistent faith shows no partiality, the consistent faith is impartial.
So why might that be important. Why might it be important for James to speak about this in his letter? Well, the Christian Church of that time was one of the few places where social distinctions did not exist. Uniquely, in the Christian Church people of all classes met together equal before God. The imagery of Acts 10, where Peter meets with Cornelius and has the dream of the sheet of clean and unclean animals encouraged the early church to understand that all people were called to Christ, and that masters and their slaves were equal before God and in the church. Indeed, it was quite possible that the slave was leading the service. In those situations, I can see that it may have been important for James to emphasise the point.