The Law Allows Not Partiality

John PlessMonday in Trinity 13 (26 August 2013)

LTS Chapel: Pretoria, South Africa

The Law Allows Not Partiality (James 2:1-13)

Psalm: Psalm 24

Hymn: “O Christ, You Walked the Road”-424 LSB

Prayer: Lord of Glory, you have bought us with your blood the ransom price that we might live under You in Your kingdom and serve you in everlasting righteous, innocence, and blessedness even as You have been raised from the dead. Grant us to so hear Your words that me may in repentance and faith live with lowly hearts and minds as those who know are place in Your kingdom and welcome without partially all those whom You have redeemed. Amen.

We typically think of the New Testament letters of I and II Timothy and Titus as the Pastoral Epistles but I submit to you that the Epistle of James is also a pastoral epistle. That is James, like I and II Timothy and Titus, was written to instruct pastors as to how they were to conduct themselves in the church and so fulfill their office in a manner that would be pleasing to the Lord, edifying of His people, and exalting the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  James exhorts the brethren “to receive with meekness the implanted word” (1:23) which is able to save their souls and later on, he warns the church saying “let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness” (3:1). In our text today, James addresses a problem which continues to surface in the church; the problem of pastors showing partiality or favoritism to members or potential members on the basis of wealth and status.

You can well picture the scene.  A small, Christian congregation is cramped together in a first century “house church,” and into the assembly of ordinary and generally poor Christians, walks a man whose dress and demeanor indicate that he is obviously wealthy. The pastor sees him enter and he scrambles to fine a comfortable seat – a place of honor – for this well to do visitor to sit. On the other hand, a man clothed not with finery but with thread-bare and dirty coat comes in and he is shuffled away to a corner and told to stand there or to sit not in a chair but on the floor.

Perhaps the pastors to whom James is writing are tempted to think, if we treat this rich guest well maybe he will contribute generously to our church. It could be that this person of prestige has social contacts that would be of help to the struggling congregation; people in the community will think better of our church if they know that this respected citizen, well-endowed with money, is a member of our congregation.

But James condemns this way of reasoning. He chides his readers for it is not only an offense against hospitality and good manners; it is offense against the Lord of Glory, our Lord Jesus Christ who though He was rich, became poor, humbling Himself to take on the form of a servant and give His life as a ransom for many. God has chosen the poor of this world- and here James is not limiting the poor to those who lack money- but the poor in spirit who have no means economic or otherwise to make a claim on God- to inherit His kingdom. So the Christian congregation can show no partiality for all have sinned and fall short of the mark. And God who is rich in mercy, abundant in steadfast love for all who live in the poverty of sin, wills to be gracious to all. He shows no favoritism which would allow those with status or wealth to attempt to justify themselves in His sight by their attitudes or actions.

There can be no partiality for the royal law, the rule of the heavenly kingdom is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Making distinctions based on wealth violates God’s Law. James reminds us that this Law cannot be adjusted to fit our failures. One cannot excuse the showing of favoritism with the appeal to how well we have kept the other commandments. We cannot compensate for breaking one commandment by invoking commandments we have supposedly kept. As our text puts it, one cannot argue that because he has not committed adultery, he can be excused of murder. To break a single commandment is to sin against the whole Law. Rather the Law completely and wholly puts us under its judgment and consigns us all to condemnation.  Under its strict and unerring measurement, no one is given space for boasting.  What the Law demands is freedom from the Law.

That freedom is not found in compromising the Law to make it more easily fulfilled. It is not found in a cafeteria approach to God’s commandments as though we could heap up certain commandments on our plate and leave those that seem too difficult in the serving dish. No freedom from the accusation of the Law is found only under “the law of liberty,” the Word of Truth which alone is able to save your soul. Freedom from the curse of the Law is found only in Jesus Christ who as the Apostle Paul says “is the end of the Law for all who believe.” This Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, did not consider it beneath His dignity to come into this world, born in the poverty of Bethlehem as Mary’s Son to be your brother and stoop down to lift you up by dying your death on the cross. In his poverty, He has welcomed you. He makes you rich in the forgiveness of your sins. Yes, even the sin of favoritism. That too is forgiven by Him who showed no favor but redeemed us all not by gold or silver but with His precious blood. So you are now free. Free to welcome others as God in Christ has welcomed you. Amen.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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