This Week’s Question: What is the fundamental missing element implied in James 2:1-9? And why is it so important?
The first section of this chapter, James 2:1-9, addresses partiality, and included under that topic are discrimination, partisanship, and a host of other divisive ills including racism, sexism, nationalism, chauvinism, jingoism, and a host of other similar beliefs. James criticizes such behaviors, without explicitly stating the root cause. Consequently the question we must consider is what is the fundamental missing element in that passage? It should not be difficult to recognize that love is the missing element (see James 2:8)! As stated in an earlier post, the motives behind partiality are fear, lust, and pride; which, according to the Bible, do not emanate from God since lust and pride are denounced repeatedly in The Bible, and Paul, in II Timothy 1:7, states explicitly, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” So the real question is why is love so important? From a Biblical perspective, there are many reasons to justify love, but for this discussion we will focus on three: (1) God commands His followers to do so; (2) Love is the distinguishing characteristic that separates God’s children from satan’s; and (3) From God’s perspective, a person’s motive is more important than one’s deeds.
Let’s start with the commandment. When Jesus was asked, “… which is the great commandment in the law (see Matthew 22:36)?” He stated two. Beginning in Verse 37 “Jesus said, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’" These commandments, according to Jesus, are inseparable and summarizes the entire Bible! The problem is many of Christ’s purported followers are resolved to expend energy building the vertical dimension of love (with respect to God), while ignoring the horizontal dimension, by disdaining one’s neighbor. Once again I John 4:20 brings clarity to this issue, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” The bottom-line is this: There is no optionality with respect to Christ's followers loving one another despite their differences; It is commanded of them by God!
The second reason love is important is it clearly identifies God’s true children according I John 4:7-8, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Nicodemus was told by Jesus that no one can either see or enter the Kingdom of God, unless they are born again (see John 3:3, 5). To be “born again” means to be “born of God” and requires transformation, since all are born into sin, and thus, are born as minions of satan. However, once someone surrenders their heart, soul, mind, and strength to The Lord, transformation is realized and that person’s life should forever change according to the following: “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (II Corinthians 5:16-17). Those who have been transformed view others differently, because The Holy Spirit endows them with a lens of love! The bottom-line is this: God is love, so for anyone to be identified as His child, he/she must have that same impartial love, for others. So how do we know God loves impartially? John 3:16 teaches that God’s love for the world (which is impartial and unconditional), is the motive behind Him sending Jesus to die for our sins, and His example is the one that must be followed!
The third reason love is important is God’s children’s deeds must be motivated by love. Otherwise, one’s actions, no matter how beneficial they seem, are meaningless according to I Corinthians 13:1-3, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” Verse 1 and part of 2 speak of spiritual gifts. Within today’s church community, many rely upon their spiritual gifts as evidence that they are children of God. The problem is many do not realize that vertical love for God, without an unconditional horizontal love for one’s neighbor, renders that gift meaningless to its bearer. Can God can still use that person to fulfill his purposes? Absolutely, but with an improper motive, it yields no benefit to the gift’s bearer!
Verse 2 is interesting because it addresses one’s spiritual walk and ministry, which on the outside appears vibrant, God-centered, and effective according to outward appearances. However God looks into a person’s heart, and if love is missing, then every deed performed in His Name is an exercise in futility because as Paul states, “I am nothing.” Jesus confirmed Paul’s assertion in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Jesus’ prophecy is a sad commentary for many who put self-interests, partisanship, political ideology, or popular or public opinion above God’s Word and His commandment to love. If love is not the motive behind everything we say, think, or do, then our deeds, no matter how effective they may seem to others, are meaningless!
In verse 3 Paul addresses charitable giving and personal sacrifice, which, in the minds of many, should automatically qualify a place in Heaven for the benefactor! Two examples are provided by Paul and both seem commendable. The first is selling all of one’s possessions to feed the poor. But what if that deed, instead of being an act of love, was done to spite someone else; or done just to realize a tax break. Paul declares categorially, “it profits me nothing.” The same can be said for someone who sacrifices their life to save others. What if the person is a suicide bomber, or the act were committed out of vengefulness or hatred towards someone else. If love was not that person’s primary motive, it is a vain exercise from God’s perspective, and will yield the self-sacrificing person no benefit when they come before God’s judgment.
In many ways James 2:1-9 is a reflection of American culture. Many, who have superior attitudes, look down upon, castigate, or harm others who they deem their “lessors.” They also actively fight to keep immigrants out of this country, have no compunction about separating families at the border, and immigrants who are fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to enter this country are subjected to inhumane squalor conditions, which has led to several deaths. Also (and this is an unfortunate waste of valuable resources), vast amounts of time, energy, and resources are utilized to keep people of color disproportionately incarcerated, uneducated, financially deprived, and unable to vote. Nevertheless, the hope for those who are poor but rich in faith is found in Matthew 20:16, “So the last will be first, and the first last...” In summary, if all who claimed to be disciples of Christ lived according to the golden rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you), and allowed that to be the motive behind everything they said, thought, and did, then this would be a better world because partiality would be a sin of the past since Christ's Disciples are the salt of the Earth and the light of the world (see Matthew 5:13-16).
Next Week’s Question: Since too many have a romanticized view of love, what is love from a Biblical perspective?