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James 2:1-17

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. (James 2:1)

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. (James 2:2)

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,” (James 2:3)

have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:4)

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? (James 2:5)

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? (James 2:6)

Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 2:7)

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. (James 2:8)

But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (James 2:9)

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10)

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. (James 2:11)

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, (James 2:12)

because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? (James 2:14)

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. (James 2:15)

If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:16)

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)

Series Intro

Each week we’re taking one of modern societies objections to Christianity and talking about it.

And I’m just gonna warn you, it’s a little brainy. My mom came up to me last week after I preached and said “That was probably your smartest message ever.” – So just warning you what you’re in for. I’m not trying to inspire you, but I hope you’re inspired. I’m not trying to motivate you, but I hope you’re motivated. I’m trying to teach you.

At the beginning on this series I told you some of these objections aren’t so much about Christianity in particular, but all faith systems in general. That’s not the case this week. This week, we’re dealing with a very specific issue for Christianity. And it has everything to do with our history.

Objection: Injustice

The Christian church has a long history of oppression. Christians (people acting in the name of Jesus Christ) have engaged in systemic, economic, and cultural oppression of various races, classes, and especially the poor.

This objection is historically associated with Karl Marx. Who is basically the poster child of modern communism. – But you don’t have to be a communist to feel the weight of this critique.

It essentially goes like this:

“Christianity is the opium of the people. That is, it disempowers the poor. It has been an enemy of the poor over the years and, therefore, we shouldn’t believe its beliefs. Christianity’s history of oppression of various races and classes and especially the poor, means the beliefs of Christianity are not credible. We shouldn’t believe them.” (Marxist Critique of Christianity)

What do we say to that?

Well first off, let me say what we DON’T say to that. We don’t say : “Psh! Nuh-uh! Christians have an incredible track record of constant liberation and NEVER oppression.” I regret to inform you, that’s not the case.

If someone were to ask me : “Has Christianity been used as a tool to oppress people?” – I would say “Of course.” So there’s no easy way out of this question, because the critique is true in a lot of ways. And so we’re in the corner on this one. But there’s still things to be said.

1. The biblical God chooses the poor and the oppressed.

So here in James 2, James is correcting this group of Christians because they have begun to discriminate against the poor. They treat the upper class better than they treat the lower class.

And in verse 5, James says an amazing thing:

…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? (James 2:5)

Rhetorical question here. It has a built-in answer and the answer is yes. Yes, God has chosen the poor. – Now what does that mean?

Well some might think it means that God only saves the poor.James doesn’t think that.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. (James 1:9)

But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. (James 1:10)

James is very clear in his writing that there are both rich and poor in the church.

Others might think it means that it’s somehow more Holy to be poor. The bible doesn’t teach that either. The danger is in what Jesus talks about in Luke 12 – “Pegans who RUN AFTER money.” But it says it right here: God choses the poor. So what does that mean?

Simple, historical fact.

I believe what he’s saying is just a simple, historical fact. Paul, for ex, writing to the Corinthian church says :

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. (1 Corinthians 1:26)

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27)

So here Paul straight up says it: “Most of the early church was people of lower socio-economic status. Now here’s what you might not know: It has always been that way and it’s still that way today.

Did you know that today, the majority of Christ followers live in the Southern Hemisphere – Latin American, Africa, Asia, – And they’re poor.

And that’s always been the case.

Story of Jesus thrives: Back alleys, recovery meetings, ghetto, the tiny remote village, among the down and out, at the edges.

And this is why the story of Jesus loses its power when it goes mainstream.

Looking at history will tell you this. Underground churches thrive in countries with oppressive governments. But then you go to a nation where being a Christian is almost EXPECTED of you. The church is those nations TENDS to become bloated, dull, irrelevant

Why? – B/C the message of Jesus is especially compelling and empowering to the poor.


First of all: “The Gospel is particularly compelling to the poor.

Let’s say you have 2 people. The first person is a homeless man, a drug addict who lives on central, and gets by by breaking into peoples houses.

The second person – Lives in tanoan, drives a BMW and is the CEO of a multi-million dollar clothing line and has over 200k instagram followers.

And now let’s say they both hear this message: “You need God. You’re a slave to your own desires and they will be the death of you. You need the supernatural grace of God in your life.”

I can imagine the drug addict saying “You may be right.” And I can imagine the CEO saying “How dare you!”

Grace – good news – know – need it…

I’ve told you before: Grace is good news for people who know they need it, and bad news for people who don’t know they need it.

So – message – Jesus – hits w/ people – know need help…

So the message of Jesus Christ hits with people who know they need help often times better than with people who don’t know they need help.

Secondly: “The Gospel is particularly empowering to the poor.

I’d like to tell you about a great irony in church history. So during the 50’s and the 60’s there were large numbers of clergy (both protestant and catholic) in Latin America who that left the faith. – They became secular people. And the reason was the Marxist objection on the top of your paper – That Christianity disempowers the poor. That’s what they believed. So they left.

The great irony is that in the ensuing 50 years there has been this explosion of pentecostal, born-again, Christianity in Latin America, amongst the poor. So much so that some Latin American countries have gone from 1 or 2 percent to 40 percent protestant Christians.

So the clergy out of solidarity with the poor, left the church, right around the same time that the poor all started going to church.

And there’s been these studies done by sociologists on these villages that have largely or even completely converted to Christianity.

What did they find? They found out that Karl Marx was absolutely wrong. The family lives, and the economic lives in these villages was greatly improved. Why?

Well think about it like this:

On one hand you have a Christian worldview that says: “The creator of the universe loved you so much that he died for you. And he put his spirit in you, and now you’re on a mission to bring healing to the world. Your life matters!”

Then you have a secular worldview that says: “You’re here by accident. At best you’re a highly complex biological organism.”

Which of those two worldviews empowers the poor?

The Christian worldview. Of course! It not only gives you a sense of significance, and belonging, it gives you a sense of purpose.

And that’s especially empowering to the poor and the oppressed because it’s exactly what they need to hear. Because it’s what they can sometimes lack. A sense of meaning, and belonging, and purpose.

So you might be saying “Yes, yes, very nice, very inspiring, but the issue is not with God, it’s with Christians.

2. Any legitimate Christian, or Christian movement will inevitably do the same.

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)

Some believe that that’s a contradiction to what Paul talks about in Romans and Galatians when he says “We’re saved by faith in Christ, not by your works.” That’s not a contradiction. Let me see if I can clear this up.

John Calvin the great theologian put it perfectly:

“We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone” (John Calvin – Antidote to the Council of Trent)

So of course we’ve saved through faith, but if faith hangs out somewhere long enough, his friends will always inevitably show up. And who are faiths friends? Actions.

So we’re not saved by our actions, but if your faith is not accompanied by action, by good works, you can be darn sure that it’s dead.

Here’s what I missed for a long time with these scriptures. I used to think that that verse ‘Faith without Works is dead.” – I used to think that was just in general. Good works. Doing good stuff. But if you read it in context you can see very clearly that he’s talking about a specific good work.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? (James 2:14)

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. (James 2:15)

If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:16)

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)

So in context you can see that the action that must accompany faith if the faith is to be real, is caring for the poor.

And understanding that puts us in a real tough spot when we read verse 13.

… judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. (James 2:13)

This is a play on words. That greek word that’s translated ‘mercy’ twice in that verse has a couple different meanings. Of course it can mean just “kindness and goodwill”. But it can also mean (in the NT) caring for the physical needs of the poor.

For example – At end of Good Samaritan parable – Everything the samaritan does for the man on the road – all the money he spends on his medical bills and all that is summed up like this: “The one who did mercy.” Another example: When Jesus is walking and the blind men cry out “Son of David! Have mercy on us.” – They’re not saying “Hey be nice to us!” – No they’re saying “Heal me. I’m sick.”

To feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to shelter the homeless, that’s mercy.

… judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. (James 2:13)

Oh man. Tough. “So are you saying that only social workers are going to heaven and no one else?” – No. Again, this a sign of salvation, not a means of salvation. But the Bible is not unclear. Those of us who claim Christ, if we don’t care for those in need, our faith is imaginary.

True – personal level — community level.

That’s true on a personal level, and it’s also true on a community level. That’s why we believe at this church that caring for the poor is not optional for a church. For our communal faith to be real, caring for those in need is required.

  • loveAbq / Food / Utility Companies

That’s why we do things like loveAbq, and giving food to people who are hungry. That’s year round, day in and day out, we take the contributions that people make to this ministry and we buy food and we give it to people who are hungry. That’s always the case. Also, we try to help people in the city who are going through a hard time financially, maybe the got laid off and got sick. And our church is able to step in, and work with the utility companies, and make payments and work with them to stop their utilities from getting cut off.

So everyone who financially partners with us here, that’s all your guys. That’s you guys taking care of the poor. Is that the only way? No, I believe we also have a personal responsibility, but it is a way.

3. Sometimes the church gets it right, and it’s glorious.

Christianity has gotten it horribly wrong, many many times. No doubt. But we have have also got it right a lot of times.

There’s this book. The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark. Who is not related to Iron Man. He’s a secular historian and he wrote this book that about examines the rise of Christianity in the first 3 centuries. And so you can see how these communities change when they convert to Christianity.

3 Examples from the 1st 3 centuries:

1. Children

In most cities, the ratio of males to females was 140 males to every 100 females. Way more guys. Do you know why? Female infanticide (In-fant-uh-side). Baby girls were born and thrown out. By the father. It was legal. They wanted sons. And the expense of raising a girl wasn’t worth it. – So they killed them and threw them away. And so these cities had many more men than women.

What do you think happened when Christianity spread to those cities? They shut that down. Of course they did. The Christians would have none of it.

2. Women

In these pre-Christian societies – when you were married, women could not any other lovers. You had to be sexually pure. But your husband could have a mistress if he wanted. – A huge double standard. Also, if you were a women in this culture if you husband died and you’re a young widow, you have to be remarried within 2 years because there’s really no reason for a woman to live unless she’s married to a man. It was required, you couldn’t choose. It was the law. Cesar says.

Christianity spreads and women FLOCK to Christianity. Because in the Christian community, you didn’t have to get married if you didn’t want to.

3. The Diseased

In the first, second, and third century, before modern medicine, they would have these huge outbreaks of disease.

These were 2 huge plagues that killed a 3rd of the population in these major cities:

  • Antonine Plague 165-180AD
  • Plague of Cyprian 251-266AD

“The doctors were quite incapable of treating the disease … Equally useless were prayers made in the temples … People were afraid to visit one another. As a result, they died with no one to look after them; indeed there were many houses in which all the inhabitants perished through lack of any attention. The bodies of the dying were heaped one on top of the other, and half-dead creatures could be seen staggering about in the streets … For the catastrophe was so overwhelming that men … became indifferent to every rule of religion or of law. [Many] pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead … hoping thereby to avert the spread of contagion. As for the gods, it seemed to be the same thing … when one saw the good and the bad dying indiscriminately.” (Rodney Stark (Historian))

I don’t know if you could imagine such a thing. People b/c of the fear of themselves getting the disease stopped caring for the sick.

But something different was happening among the Christians. This is an eyewitness account of the plague by a man named ‘Dionysius’

“Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease … and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead …” (Dionysius)

In the midst of a horrific plague, the Christians stayed put. – Not only did they stay put, they gave their lives caring for both the Christians and the non-Christians.

And in saving the life of their neighbor, they lost their life. Now where would they get an idea like that? Jesus.

(As – prepare – communion)

If you want to see the greatest act of caring for the poor, it’s Jesus coming and pouring out his life for us who without him, are spiritually and morally bankrupt. We have nothing. And he gives us all that he has and all that he is.

In Christian circles it’s called The Gospel. And when you allow that to truly transform your heart. Then this desire grows on the inside of you to live like Jesus. And to LOVE others like Jesus.

Closing Statement: God has always embraced and elevated the poor. And any legitimate Christ follower will do the same. Have we always done that? Far from it. There is absolutely no excuse for the historical sins of those claiming to follow Jesus. None. But there is an opportunity for Christ followers to rebuild the reputation that we once had, as radically loving, giving, sacrificial people. People who joyfully enter into the world with open hands and open hearts.

Challenge: Ask God for an opportunity to help someone in need.