Trading Places, James 2:1-13 by Robert Smith Jr.


Our scripture reading for this morning
is James 2:1-13, it can be found in the pew Bible in front of you on page
1011. James 2:1-13. Listen carefully for this is God’s Word. My
brother,s show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ the
Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into
your assembly and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in and if you pay
attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say “You sit here in a good
place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand
over there, or sit down at my feet.” Have you not then made distinctions among
yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen my beloved brothers, has
not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of
the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? But you have
dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich ones who oppress you and the ones who
drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the Honorable name by
which you are called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the
scripture, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. But if
you show partiality you are committing a sin and are convicted by the law as
transgressors for whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has
become accountable for all of it. For he who said “Do not commit adultery” has
also said “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder
you’ve become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to
be judged under the law of Liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has
shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God. And let us respond to the Word by
saying the part that is in bold in our programs. But the fruit of the Spirit is
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
self-control. Against such things there is no law, and those who belong to
Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live
by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
I remember reading of a man who went to church, stood in the lobby for a while
ungreeted stayed there for several awkward moments, started to go through
the doors to enter the sanctuary, was not given a bulletin, made his way down to
the third pew, sat on the end. The service began, the singing was inspirational, the
praying was penetratingly moving, and the reading of scripture was done with
proper voice and dignity. The time came down for the preacher. Everyone knew that
the pastor was on vacation and that a guest preacher was to deliver the
message. All eyes were down toward the front to the front row where a man who
was finely dressed with an open Bible sat. They looked for him to take his place
behind the sacred desk, but to their surprise the man sitting on the third
row, sitting on the end of the bench, dressed in a shabby way, dressed to the
point that his clothing was faded, his clothing was disheveled, his hair was in
disarray took the pulpit, stood behind the sacred desk
and announced his text. James chapter 2 verse 1. You brothers and sisters,
believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, the God of glory, must not show favoritism.
Brothers and sisters, this is a message from James who writes to the surrounding
churches, many who are part of the Diaspora, scattered, had their goods
confiscated, etc. He’s writing to a church that he wished was mature. One of the big
problems is that it’s immature. I know that scholars say that there is very
little gospel in it and of course Luther has reminded us as we read some
500 years later that this is a straw epistle. And yet the gospel is assumed,
it’s not extricated, it’s assumed. It’s there. I know that there are only two
references to Jesus in this letter. Chapter 1 verse 1 James the brother of
our Lord I believe says that I am a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in
chapter 2 verse 1 he says that we who are believers in our glorious Lord Jesus
Christ must not show favoritism. Just two verses out of five chapters, and yet when
we ride across I-65, I-20, we seldom think that that highway is
intact because of what we don’t see. Underneath there are steel rods that hold
the concrete together. I want to suggest today that the letter written to James
holds together christologically because they are christological rods that hold
the concrete of this letter together. And you may not see them but it’s christologically soaked. The Bible wants us to understand that Christ is
the church’s one foundation and in all that we are and all that we will be, it’s
really by His grace. That word “favoritism” etymologically speaking going back to
the Greek root really means to receive one according to the face. To receive a
person according to the face. To receive an individual according to external
distinctions. Reading a book and judging it by its cover rather than by its
content. Verse number two, James says to us: “I want
to present a hypothetical situation.” Now we are not sure whether these two men,
rich and poor, are members of the church. They they could be visitors we’re not
told. But he says suppose a rich man who dresses in a very fine fashion. Gold
rings on his finger, his shirt is starched, his shoes are of the finest
shine, and he’s a person of great distinction. But a poor man comes in and
he dresses in a shabby way and his clothes are dirty and perhaps he is the
destitute of the destitute and he comes into the church. This just reminds me of
Luke 16:19-31 where there are two men. One who is a rich man. In Latin he is known
as Dives. And he fasts sumptuously every day. Eats the best of food and is known
in the community as perhaps an upstanding citizen. But here is a poor
man who is at the rich man’s gates. Maybe the rich man sicks the dogs on him
because the only mercy he gets comes from the dogs. I’m not sure the richer
man may have said to the dogs “sick him,” but God must have said in the
intervening time “lick him,” and the Bible says that the dogs licked the man’s
sores and there was a sense of relief when you lift your hand. I used to do
this even as a 64 year old, 65 year old man. I still lick my wound because there’s
something that is healing about saliva. And that he is a rich man who feasts
sumptuously, and a poor man who is not faring well, but they trade places, and
the rich man who experiences tranquility on earth experiences turbulence in Hades,
for in Hades he lifted up his eyes. But the poor man who experiences turbulence
on earth experiences in the end tranquility in heaven for he is caring,
probably didn’t have a funeral, but he has angels to be his pallbearers and
they carry him to the bosom of Abraham which is a place of repose and rest. They
trade places Jim Cymbala in his work, the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle
Church in Brooklyn, New York, recalls an incident in his work “Fresh Wind, Fresh
Fire,” which he had been preaching on Resurrection Sunday, Easter Sunday. He had
preached, as I recall, three services. This was his fourth one, he was tired. And as
he was getting ready to give the benediction to close the service, a man
came down the aisle. The man drew closer, Jim figured that he knew what he wanted.
The man was dressed in a shabby way. As he got closer he could smell the feces
and the urine in his clothes as if he had slept all night long in that. And he
got even closer and Jim, as the man opened his mouth and started to talk,
turned his face because he could not stand the stench that came from his rottener teeth. And the man came to Jim and Jim immediately went into his wallet and
pulled out a bill. And the man said “Preacher I don’t want your money,
I want that Jesus you’ve been talking about.” And it was at that moment when the Lord said to Jim, “Jim if you want your ministry to ever take off, if
you want your ministry to ever be elevated, if you want your ministry to
ever be exalted, you’ve got to turn your face back to his face,” a sense of in the
Hebrew ‘panim el panim,’ face to face “because you’ve got to learn to love that smell,
Jim. I came for that smell, I died for that smell.” And in that moment God
transformed the stench of that smell into a fragrant aroma. God came for that
smell. He loves that smell. He came to seek and
save that which was lost, Luke says in Luke 19 and 10. And God has taken Jim
Cymbala’s ministry and taken it from Echelon to Echelon, from one level of
height to the other level of height because he learned to love that smell. I hope
that you will not forget that smell. Some of us come from that kind of smell. Don’t
ever get to the place where you forget where you’ve come from, no matter no
matter how theologically astute you get. Don’t forget the individuals who
helped you to get there, a mama like mine who only has a seventh grade education
and she would not even know how to spell the word
omnipresent and would not even hardly know how to pronounce the word,
that’s not demeaning her at all, but if you told her what it meant she would
tell you that God is so big that if he moves anywhere in the universe he bumps
into himself and as far as I’m concerned that’s the best definition I’ve ever
heard. Some of us may get to the place where we know how to walk with kings and
queens but we don’t know how to have the common touch don’t forget that smell. An
ESPN correspondent interviewed Floyd Patterson, the former heavyweight
champion of the world. He knew that Patterson had a similar
background as that of Mike Tyson, the present reigning heavyweight champion of
the world, and asked him “If you had an opportunity to talk to Mike Tyson what
one thing that you say to him?” He hesitated for a moment and he said “I
would tell Mike go back to the beginning. Don’t forget the days that you used to
eat food out of the garbage, or used to steal from the garbage.”
I’m concerned that we will forget where God has brought us from. It is the sound,
the cry of the Reformation ad Fontes, to the sources. Go back to Sola scriptura, go
back to Sola gratia, go back to Sola fide,
go back to Doli Deo Gloria, go back to the Word of God. Don’t forget that
smell. Verse number three, James says to us what if you speak and you say to the
rich man, “Sit here, this is reserved for you.” The man who’s dressed in the fine
way, the man who has gold rings on his finger. And to the poor man, “You go stand
there,” probably meaning the corner, “You go sit there
underneath the footstool.” What if you say that? Because favoritism is receiving a
person according to the face, according to external distinctions. Economically, educationally, racially, culturally, whatever it is, that’s really what
favoritism is. That is not how God receives us. The Lord sent Samuel down to
Jesse’s house to interview the next king. Who was still in office incidentally?
Saul, who would reign over the United States of Israel, the twelve tribes of
Israel for 42 years, but was still in office and Samuel did his interviewing
of seven sons and got ready to leave because God rejected every one of them.
When he got to ready to leave, the Lord basically said to him “I thought I told
you to interview all of the sons.” And he asked Jesse “Don’t you have any other
sons?” “Yes I have one more, but he’s Rudy and he’s the youngest, he’s the the last
one, and he’s a shepherd.” He is not kingly material, but God told me to interview him. And he interviews David
and God said “That’s the one.” Because 1 Samuel 16:7 says man humans
look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. Hear me when I tell you
that David is anointed even before the job is available. He has
the job, anoint him, he is going to be the king. I know it’s not open yet, but the
anointing is on him so that when it’s open he’ll step right into it. Some of
you are very concerned and very anxious about your future. Don’t worry about your
future, just prepare yourself for what God is preparing you for. God is
anointing, God is preparing, and you won’t have to pull any strings because what
God has for you in terms where he wants you to be, you will be there, because
nothing can thwart the plans of God. What if you say that to the rich man? And what
if you say that to the poor man? If you say to the poor man, “You go and sit
somewhere.” Since it all starts really with speech, notice that, speech verse
three, “You say.” And James has warned us in verse number three “Be slow to speak, but
to hear.” Ah, the emphasis of the Bible, I believe the great stress is not on the
mouth, it’s on the ear. The Shema in Deuteronomy 6 and 4, “Hear O Israel the
Lord our God is one.” 1 Samuel 3:10 and Eli hans counseled Samuel to
say to God “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” And Elijah comes to Mount
Horeb and needs a fresh revelation, and God does not appear to him in an
earthquake, though sometimes he does and he did on the Mount Sinai. Sometimes he
appears in a windstorm, but not here, but sometimes he does because he sent the
wind to blow all night long, the east wind open up the Red Sea. And sometimes
he appears in a outbreak of fire, but not here, but he did one time, when he
appeared in a burning bush. And Moses came to the back side of that bush and
saw that the bush was burning, but not consumed, but here he’s not in the
earthquake, he’s not in the windstorm, and he’s not in an outbreak of fire, but he’s
in a still small voice, a whisper which requires intense
listening. And Habakkuk says to us in Habakkuk chapter 2 verse 20, “God is in
his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him.” And every one of the
seven churches of Asia might include this admonition: “The ones who have ears,
let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Go and sit down, man, sit
down underneath the footstool or sit there by the footstool. Go stand in the
corner somewhere. What if that kind of discriminatory word is given to the poor
man? It was back in December 1955, December 1, that Rosa Parks boarded a bus
in Montgomery, Alabama. There was a Jim Crow ordinance that said that only white
people could sit on the first 10 seats. She sat on seat number 14, which
technically was not in violation of the law, but the law also said that if they
were white people who got on the bus and there were no seats
available in the first 10 seats, then persons who were not of that color would
have to move back. She sat down in seat 14 and refused to get up and was
arrested. But when she sat down the nation stood up and churches stood up
because injustice economically, racially, educationally is discrimination,
therefore it is as James will call it later, a sin. Oh I don’t believe that we
ought to socialize the gospel, but we must gospelize the social so that the
gospel speaks not only to the spiritual arena but speaks to the social, the
educational. And the gospel speaks to everything because God is the God of all
the earth who will do right. Verse number 5, here, the matter revolves around faith.
It’s faith. And James says, “Don’t you know that God has chosen those who were poor
in the eyes the world to be rich in faith and has
promised to give an inheritance to those who love him. In other words, what James
wants us to know, I don’t want us to think that people are just automatically
lost and saved depending upon the economic level. Persons who are poor are not
inherently saved, and persons who are rich are not inherently lost. Abraham was
rich, Job was rich, Truett Cathy was rich, but they were not only rich in goods,
they were rich in grace. They were saved because they had faith in Jesus. There
are people who are rich and you ask them and they have their Rolls Royces and
they have their 100 inch televisions and they have millions of dollars in the
bank, “Do you need Jesus?” They’ll tell you immediately, “I don’t need Jesus.”
But you see Jesus is more than what you have. I’d rather have Jesus than houses
and land. I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold. I’d rather have Jesus than
anything the world can afford today because one of these days when you get
ready to die, you’d better be able to say “Give me
Jesus!” What happens when a poor person is judged? He or she is not inherently rich.
Mary, if anyone should have been exempt from needing the Holy Spirit to convert
her and to empower her it, should have been in my thinking logically, the mother
of Jesus. After all, she has, if you will, served as an incubator for him for nine
months. She conceived of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. She bore the son of God
for nine long months. Seems to me that she didn’t need to be converted. And yet
she finds herself along with the 119 in Acts Chapter 1 waiting for
the Holy Spirit to come, and yet she’s had him for 9 months. No,
she needs to be converted like everybody else. Some of the most unbelieving, some
of the most terrible infidels I’ve ever met have been poor people who were not
only poor in riches but poor in terms of being bankrupt in faith. And here James
says “What if this kind of condition existed took place?” And
verse number five, “and if you took and told the individual, ‘Sit here at the
footstool.'” This is the place of subjection. It must
reflect at least on Psalm 110:1 where the Lord says “Sit at my
right hand while I make your enemies that you have just defeated your
footstool.” The footstool is a place of subjection. You sit there while the rich
person stands or sits here in preferred seating. James is trying to tell us when
that kind of thing takes place, it is wrong, it is discrimination, and in verse
five you are judging people with the evil thoughts of your hearts. Do you not
hear James saying in James 4:12 that there is only
one judge and one lawgiver, just one, just one. “Who made you the judge?” James 4:12
asks. And I discovered something that liberated my ministry and has for a long
time and that was and that is that God doesn’t need a co-God. There was a time
in which I thought I was pretty indispensable, I really did, and some of
you think you’re pretty indispensable. You’re not indispensable, you’re not that
cute, you’re not that handsome, you’re not that smart, you’re not that important.
Just mess around and die and God gives you an opportunity to look back at the
choir singing better than they sung when you sang. Look back at your classroom.
Somebody else will replace you before your body gets cold and some of us walk
around like we’re the only rooster in the barnyard and the only pebble on the
beach and the only fish in the sea, and what God is trying
to tell you here is “I am God all by myself, and I don’t need anybody else,” so
therefore when you have an opportunity to serve God in any capacity, you better
walk into that place and say “I’m glad to be in the service just one more time. He
didn’t have to let me live, I’m glad to be in the service just one more time.”
Verses 6 & 7, James goes on to tell us. Now I wouldn’t move from hypothesis to
reality. I said “suppose” in verse 2, but in verse 6 and 7 this is a real situation.
It is actually taking place in the church, because in the church there is a
kind of inner turmoil, probably because of the lack of love and external
turmoil because of the rich oppressing the poor. It’s kind of like that lyric
in Just As I Am. Fightings and fears within without, Oh Lamb of God I come. For
the rich are dragging the poor into debt prison. The rich are exploiting the poor
and the text says that the rich have come to the place where they slander or
blaspheme the name of the God of the poor who have faith in the God who has
the cattle on a Thousand Hills who belong to him. Verse number 8, Hear what
James has to say once again to us. When you do this you are breaking the royal
law. Here is a situation where we as believers are called to go antithetical
to what the world does. We’re not called to be politically correct, we are to
correct the world by the Word of God. Biblical situations brought up. The Royal
law is the law of love and you know what James does? He appeals to Sola scriptura.
He goes right back to the Bible. He doesn’t try to solve problems by the
Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, he’s the preacher. He wants the preacher
to speak to the political order, because our ultimate allegiance is not to the
flag but to the cross. Our ultimate allegiance is not to the White House but
to the Right House. Our ultimate allegiance is not to government but to
God. So he goes right back to the scripture and says this, “I want to appeal
to Leviticus 19:18, Love your neighbor as yourself.”
That’s a good word, James, but you don’t know the Bible because the first
commandment is “Love God with all your heart, soul mind and strength. You didn’t mention that. I
hear James saying to us “I know it, but I assumed you knew it, because you
can’t love your neighbor as yourself until your first love God. And that’s
what John says in 1 John 4:20 “How can you say you love your
brother that you see every day, or how can you love God that you don’t see, and hate
your brother that you see every day?” You cannot love God without loving your
brother and if you love God you will love your brother. He appeals to the
royal law. The word royal comes from the same Greek word as Kingdom, the
same root word. This is kingdom decorum,
this is kingdom conduct, this is how Christians live. It’s not unusual, it’s
the norm for Christians. Oh, I’ve got to hurry. Verse number nine, here is a
situation where that word favoritism once again, to receive a person by the
face, is mentioned again you take and show favoritism. James just hits
it on the head. It’s a sin. Discrimination is a sin, and anything that is unjust
before God it is sin and as a result of that James says in verse 9 “You will
be convicted before the Law.” I don’t mean the Supreme Court here, I’m talking about
the Law that is indivisible and cannot be broken. Verse number 10. James moves
and tells us that if you break the law in just one point.
Don’t take pride thinking that, as some of the Jews did, you put the things
that you’ve done that’s right in one scale and things that you’ve done that’s
wrong in other scale and if your rights outweighs your wrongs then you’re all right. No, if you sin and break one of the laws, you’ve broken all of them. I remember
very well when I was playing baseball, it was an imaginary time, I was at that time
probably about ten, and my favorite baseball player was Roberto Clemente and
I stood there in Filson Park in Cincinnati, Ohio,
and I took these smooth pebbles and threw them up in the air and took Mama’s
mop stick and broomstick, I used to love when they wore out because they became
my bats, and I threw it up and “The ball is hit, Roberto Clemente hit the ball back, back,
back to the wall, he jumps! He leaps! It’s gone, it’s a home run!” and the rock hit
the windshield of a car that was coming by. I stood there, the man came and got
me, I looked at the windshield, the rock did not just bring an impairment in the
spot where it hit, it was like a spiderweb. It affected the whole
windshield, and when we sin, every one of the laws are broken. All of them are
broken. It’s like throwing a rock in a pond and you don’t just have an
indention of the water by the rock, there is a spiraling effect, concentric
circles, ripples, and when we break the law of God we have broken all of it. In
verse number 11 the text goes on to say that the Bible gives us the
indivisibility of the law. In other words, the law is indivisible, all ten of them,
because God is indivisible. And because God is indivisible then every one of
those laws have a sense of connectivity and none of them are unaffected by the
breaking of any of the others. That’s really what is taking place when God
reminds us, as he speaks to James, about two of the commandments.
The first one is murder. In the 20th chapter of Exodus and the 13th verse
about murder, Thou shalt not murder. In Exodus chapter 20 verse 14 is about
adultery, and James knows that because he’s an Old Testament scholar which is
really all they had. He’s not a modern-day Marcionite, he does
believe in preaching from the Old Testament because that’s really all that
they had, but then he has a brother by the name of Jesus and he remembers I’m
sure Jesus saying in the great Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount in
Matthew chapter 5 verse 21, You shall not commit murder. In fact, murder starts
with the attitude, not the action. If you hate your brother you’ve already
committed murder. And in Matthew chapter 5 verse 27,
Thou shalt not commit adultery, because adulterous thoughts were the attitude and
not the action. If you shall lust after a man or a woman you already committed
adultery, and then he brings it up to James chapter 4 verse 2, where he says
that if you don’t get what you want, you want to kill someone, you insist upon
murdering, you insist upon killing and in James 4 verse 2 he calls this generation
an adulterous generation. He brings all of this together
to show that there is an inter-connectivity and indivisibility in terms
of the entire laws and he wants us to understand that spiritual wisdom is not
mere knowledge about the doctrines of God, but rather living out those
doctrines in relationship with others through the power of Christ Jesus in the Spirit.
And here, it’s relational, adultery and murder, in terms of our attitudinal
relationship with individuals, and in verse number 12 he reminds us that we have to
live our lives in terms of what we speak, verse 12, and how we act in view that we
too will stand in court. We will face court and we will be subjected, listen to
this, to the law that gives freedom. The law that gives freedom, what a
paradoxical statement! But if you’re gonna follow Jesus you gotta follow him
paradoxically. He doesn’t make sense, he is more than logical he’s supra-logical. He says “If you’re gonna live you’ve got to die.” He says, “If you want to find
your life you got to be willing to lose it.” He says, “If you’re gonna be first you
got to be willing to be last.” He says “You’re gonna be exalted, you’ve got to be
humbled.” He says, “If you’re going to sit at the head of the table, you’ve got to sit at
the end of the table.” This law actually liberates and it gives you
freedom, not just from something but freedom for something. He closes, it seems
so negative. He gets to verse 13 and reminds us that individuals who do not
show mercy will not receive mercy. Well James can’t you say something that’s
celebrative, can’t you say something that’s uplifting, can’t you say something
that’s encouraging? Yes, my last remark, that mercy triumphs over judgment. Oh
thank you, James. That mercy triumphs over judgement, because the only way that mercy can
triumph over judgment is that mercy has to trade places with judgment. He who
comes to bring mercy receives judgment, and we who deserve judgment get mercy. Oh, that’s what happens redemptively, God takes and trades places with us. I’m glad
about that. You see, when Haman and Mordecai
exchange places in Esther chapter seven, it didn’t directly give me redemption.
And when you see the rich man in Luke chapter 16 trade places with the poor
man, it didn’t directly give me redemption. But I’m glad that when Je
changed places it brought redemption to us. That’s
really what Isaiah is trying to tell us in Isaiah 53, “He was wounded for our
transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. The
chastisement of our peace was upon him and with His stripes we are healed.”
I hear the psalmist saying in Psalm 85:10 Righteousness and peace kissed
each other because mercy and truth met together and it brought us salvation.
The one who was rich became poor, that we who are poor might be rich.
The one who was eternal stepped into time that we who, when time, might step
into eternity. The one who knew no sin became sin,
that we who are sinners might be made the righteousness of God. The one who
refused to come down did so because we who were down might go up and therefore
I’m glad for what He did. I’m glad that I’m forgiven because he was forsaken. I
have been accepted because He was taken and turned against. I’m alive, the Spirit
dwells within me because he died and rose again. Well He traded places for me,
but one of these days I’m gonna trade places. One of these days when God comes
again through the power of the Spirit of God, I will trade places for one of these
days I will take off my mortality and put on immortality and when he comes I will
take off corruption and put on incorruption when he comes I will take my
place before him because God is going to plow up this earth like a fresh-plowed new ground from the frozen banks of the north to
the burning shores of the south and when he comes I shall stand on the heavenly
Shore and ring the blue waters of tribulation from the hem of my garments.
And when he comes I’m going through one of those gates. There are three in the East,
three in the West, three in the North, and three in the South, and when He comes I’m
gonna trade places, bow down in front of Him and say one thing: Thank you, thank
you, thank you, for trading me from being one who was dead in trespasses and sin
and not only am I alive, I’m alive forevermore because spiritual wisdom is
not mere knowledge about those doctrinal truths of God, but rather it is living
out those truths in relationship with others through the power of the Spirit
of Christ.

2 thoughts on “Trading Places, James 2:1-13 by Robert Smith Jr.

  1. Preach Doc! A master homiletician. Glory. Thank God for Jesus. Exegeted the text and then poured some gravy on it at the end! Soli deo gloria🙏🏿

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