I am sure most of us have heard the phrase “never judge a book by its cover” and understand its meaning. If I was to ask my students in elementary what the phrase meant, I would get an answer that has to do with picking out a book that doesn’t have a nice cover but it has a great story. Even though I would remind them of this every time it was library day, I would still find them going after books that had cool covers. Now If I was to ask my high schoolers this question, I would get a more complex answer. They would understand this phrase as being more than books or items but about people as well. To me one of the greatest stories that illustrates this idea of not showing prejudice must be found in a Fairy Tale and film known as Beauty and The Beast. And most of us know of the story and the prince who was spoiled, selfish, and unkind. He turns an old beggar woman away from his castle because she had a haggard appearance while all along, she was a beautiful enchantress who was reminding him that beauty is found within. For his lack of compassion, she turned him into a beast and he would remain that way until he found true love. Yes, this story is known as a kiddy princess tale but it is such a deep story with the moral” that beauty is found within.”
In James Chapter 2, we begin with James writing a warning to the early church about favoritism. He gives an example of two people coming into the meeting place or church and one is dressed with fancy clothes and the second is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. James said that if they were to give special attention to rich person but told the poor one to stand or sit on the floor, they were committing a sin.
This topic is so sensitive because it really makes us think and search our hearts to see if we have ever favored others. And I believe that it is part of our sinful human nature to categorize people but, why is it that we find ourselves favoring others? Two of the most likely thoughts of why we do this has to be maintaining pride or status in society and overall, the thought of what can I get out of this relationship.
In Beauty and the Beast, Belle, spoiler alert, is going to be the one to break the enchantment of the Beast, because she looked on the inside of a person. She could have gone with the eligible bachelor Gaston but instead she chose to be herself even though being with Gaston probably would have elevated her station. James writes and quotes the royal law which is to “love your neighbor as yourself” and when we “favor some people over others” we have broken this law. This phrase used in the NLT “favor some people over others” in the Greek it is "Prosopolepteo," which denotes making distinctions among people based on rank or influence but showing preference to people with riches or power.
James says that even if you keep all the other laws but still break one like this you have broken all the laws. I love the chorus of the song “Great are You Lord” which says “It's Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You only.” The reason I love the song is because it points to the main theme of this first section of chapter 2 which is we are all the same. Regardless of your socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, or educational level it is God’s Breath in your lungs to praise His holy name that is important. As people made in his image, we must not make distinctions with one another because we are all part of God’s Family. When it comes to being in relation with one another we must remember that it not about receiving but working as a team to further the mission of the Christ. So, James finishes the first half of this chapter with a reminder to show mercy with one another because our God is merciful. So let us look to the beauty of His image that is found within in us all to unite as a family.
In the last half of the chapter, we break into a section of scripture that has been discussed and debated over for centuries and some would claim as contradictory to Ephesians Ch.2:8 which states it is by grace you have been saved through faith. James writes to the church in verse 14 in the ESV “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” and people have misinterpreted this verse and caused division in the church even today. Looking back to the Reformation, Martin Luther, who was a Catholic Monk in the 1500s, got fed up with the idea that it is works that save you or you can buy your way into heaven, so he broke from the Catholic Church and created the Protestant Church which focused on the idea of grace through faith but some people of the church still missed verse 17 of James chapter 2, which says that “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” The key word being “by itself.”
As James is writing in this section of the chapter he mentions if a brother or sister sees another person is poorly clothed and lacking food and simply says “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” but fails to provide them what they need, has shown that their faith is dead. The point James is making is, faith by itself without action or works is dead. In verse 18 he says that “I will show you my faith by my works” meaning that our works are the fruit of our faith and if faith is genuine, we should be showing good works. It is not enough to just have faith and believe in God, James says that even the demons believe that and shudder. Sometimes as believers, and I am guilt of this too, we can just sit and believe that God is going to do a miracle or a move in our lives but the truth is, if we are not pressing into His Word, engaging in prayer, and seeking Him, our faith can become stagnant or dare I say, die.
I am sure some of us have heard the story which involves a Christian man who is faced with approaching floodwaters. Despite several rescue attempts, the man refuses assistance, stating that God will save him. Tragically, he ultimately drowns in the flood. The man had to only exercise the faith of taking a step into the rescue vehicle to be saved but instead sat on his faith and met his end. As I mentioned earlier, faith is key, but it is the action that brings it together into completion.
James ends the chapter telling the story of two Biblical characters whose faith and action worked together. He first mentions Abraham who believed in the covenant with God for a son and acted in offering his son to demonstrate his faith to God. James writes in verse 22 that “his faith and his actions worked together.” It is like he mentioned earlier, faith is not enough and works are not enough to save us as believers. It requires them to work together to make faith complete. We can work ourselves to death but it will never save us or give fulfillment and in the same way we can believe with all our hearts but if we do not act in our faith, we do not really have it. Before I mention the last character, I just want to reflect on the first half of this chapter on favoritism and how it ties so well with this last half with Rahab the prostitute that James refers to from the Old Testament which tells of her faith in action as she hid the Israelite spies. She had only heard of the awesome power of God and what he had done and, in that belief, she acted in faith.
So, Church as we go about today, let us remember that His breath in our lungs makes us family and to live out our faith in action by loving others and seeking more of Christ.