In a Nutshell
James addresses the company of people with Christ's surname (v.7). How should they view themselves and each other? As a body, they should allow God's ways, His law, to emancipate them fully, avoiding customs which require that they show preferment to the rich.
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How is this admonition of James to be lived out today when Christian people meet together?
My brothers [and sisters], do not cling to customary preferment as you hold faith in our Lord Jesus, the Christ of glory. For [consider how if in the event] of your congregation being visited by a gold-ringed person dressed splendidly, as [well as] a poor person shabbily dressed, and you take notice of the wearer of splendid gear by saying, ‘Have this seat, please’, but to the poor person you say, ‘Stand over there’ or ‘Sit at my feet’. Is this not a discrimination among yourselves, making yourselves judges with evil thoughts? Listen carefully, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But have you not dishonoured the poor in this instance? Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not the rich who blaspheme the [family] surname that you have inherited?
You really do well by fulfilling the scripture according to the kingdom's law, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But to involve yourself in such customary partiality, is to establish sin, and [meanwhile] the law convicts you as complete transgressors. For merely stumbling at one point, even though you keep all the rest, renders you completely guilty of [breaking] it in entirety. For the same one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ So 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 by this law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to the one showing no mercy, since mercy's boast is to prevail over judgement.
James reminds his brothers and sisters of the joyous life they are now embarked upon. They are the ever-extending family of Jesus Christ, those called forth to be known to the entire creation by God's own surname. Theirs is nothing less than a ministry of mercy to all people, in active service to the One who is the "light to shine on all the nations; the full glory of God's forming a Holy People for Himself" (Luke 2:31-32). There is simply no room in their work for a petty and superficial tendency to bow and scrape to those who may expect their recognition.
Get with it! James tells his readers. He confirms the point by explaining why a congregation that gives instinctive preference to the rich, violates the basic law of the King who rules them. This is not simply to neglect the poorer members of the congregation. It is an offence against the Almighty Himself! Why? Because such deferential presumption is to elevate oneself right in front of God's face to be one's own judge. And when this Judge has extended such mercy! So, no amount of weaselling can deny that this Judge's law has been abrogated. This is no minor slip-up.
In his words at the beginning of this letter, James stated that the rich and poor should personally consider themselves under heaven, coram Deo, with joy. Now he reminds them of their corporate identity. To be corporately guilty of such sin is to be liable to a corporate judgment. The letter's exposé of human presumption reaches depths that indicate the possibility of turning away from God's law, rejecting the emancipation it guarantees. Put simply, the practise of such preferment is to ignore God's extension of mercy to all those who now have His surname.
I am among you as one who serves!
A congregation which has elevated itself, makes its members "judges with evil thoughts" (v.4), and is "double-minded and unstable" in all of its life. The merciful judgment of the Lord has been over-ridden with a presumptuous self-elevation (v. 4) which can only mean the enslavement of those who should be free. In this case, faith in Christ Jesus, to which they are called, has been unhinged from the works of righteousness. And instead, a sinful practise is now worked out (HARMARTIAN ERGAZESTHE v.9) in their midst. Faith and works should never be separated.