Today Saint James calls upon us to avoid partiality.
In America, racial bigotry has often been a large problem. Certainly, the words of James indicate that we should not look down upon people of any group as being inferior or inherently bad. This includes preference based on gender, age, or in the example James refers to, preference based on how rich a person is.
As human beings, we naturally admire or look up to certain kinds of people. To some extent, it is alright to treat some people differently and to show preference to them. For instance, a man must love his wife and care for her more than anyone else. There is also nothing wrong with having certain friends that are closer to us than others. But we should be careful that we do not purposefully exclude others based on any criteria by which we look down upon them. We should try to be understanding and sympathetic even toward those whom we may feel are inferior in some way.
In God's eyes, no one is inherently inferior. All were created in His image. All have equally fallen from that image into sin and guilt. All who are redeemed are justified by the same holy Blood, and are equally forgiven. Even those whom you find disgusting may be the saints of God. We also have great flaws and great sins, each one of us. Each person carries his own particular burdens. Let us try to overlook whatever else is different in another person.
So do not be hasty to show favoritism. Put aside, as much as possible, all feelings of favoritism. Try to think of yourself as a servant to all, and superior to none.
To think others inferior is to violate the royal law of love. For if you look down on someone in your heart, then you are not loving them as yourself.
We cannot fully escape violating this command. Even if only in our secret thoughts, we have not treated all equally. We have not loved all men as ourselves. It does not matter if we have outwardly shown no sign of inequity. If we have hidden away in our heart of hearts some tiny animosity, James tells us that we have broken the entire law. For the law must be kept entirely perfect at all points, or else it is entirely broken. This shows us how great our sinfulness is.
James goes on to speak about faith, whether it is living or dead based on whether it produces good works. Now, we must be very cautious here. A person who is in a crisis of conscience may think that they are producing no works at all, and thus conclude that they have no faith. James does not speak of dead faith in order to afflict such tortured consciences. Where you fear the greatness of your sin, flee to the Cross and the Blood that washes away every blemish.
But James writes for those who are self-secure and lazy. They are those who say that they have faith, yet feel no need to try hard at producing works and fighting temptation. They say that salvation is free, so good deeds do not matter at all. Such people need to be told that good works are necessary for the Christian life, even though they are not necessary to earn salvation. The kind of faith that produces no works at all cannot be called true faith. When a person claims to have faith but lives and acts any way they please, without any sign of sorrow for sin, then we may justly doubt whether their faith is genuine. Even then, we must be cautious, since we may simply not notice their works or their contrition.
So spur yourself onward toward good deeds. Try as hard as you can, even though you are not saved by your works. Remember as you do so that it is actually God who produces such works in you. Thus you should never take pride in them, as if you have accomplished anything. Only God should get the glory.
For He is the One who has made works possible in you by creating faith in the first place. Only the soul with faith can produce anything good before God. So He has made you rich in faith so that you are spiritually alive, not dead. Your rich faith overflows to good works, even when you are not aware of them. The Holy Spirit creates a desire in you to do what is pleasing to God and avoid what is displeasing. Even as you believe that He is loving and gracious towards you for the sake of His Son, yet you struggle onward in the fear of God, trying to avoid what is unrighteous in your actions.
Since you are rich in faith through the Spirit's work in water and the Word, therefore you are also heirs of the Kingdom that He promised to those who love Him. Only those people love Him who have first received His love in Christ Jesus. Only those upon whom the Blood of Christ has been poured can in turn pour out their lives as living sacrifices to God.
But never forget that you are inheriting a Kingdom that does not pass away, as the kingdoms of earth do. Every worldly nation rises and falls. But the Kingdom of heaven is forever. That is where you citizenship lies, and more than citizenship. For you are heirs, which means that you are the royal kings who receive the Kingdom as your possession. In this life you must act as lowly peasants, servants to all, humble and downtrodden. Yet what you are in reality shall be revealed openly on the last Day. You are kings, to inherit the Kingdom of the King of kings, our Lord Jesus.
He conquered His Kingdom by shedding His Blood. He was crowned with thorns to rule over redeemed sinners. He died with the weight of your sin upon Him so that you would not be crushed by that weight.
For God did not look with partiality upon you. You were inferior in every way, full of sin, disgusting and unclean, even His enemies who rebelled against Him. You were completely unworthy of His love. Yet His love desired to create worthiness in you. He covered you with the image of His Son in Baptism. He filled you with His Holy Spirit. Now Christ is not ashamed to call you His brothers and sisters. For God creates objects worthy of His love.
All glory be to this Triune God, the only source of every good and perfect gift. Amen.
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