My wife shared with me an illustration from a sermon that she listened to online this week. The illustration had a point, but I narrowed my focus to the illustration and had to remind myself not to miss the point. This reminded me of the passage in James that we will consider this Sunday at Grace.
In my Bible, at James 2:1, the passage heading says, “The Sin of Partiality.” (This was added by the Bible publisher, not James.) That’s a good heading, because James is telling us that in the church we are not to show partiality to people based on economic status. But if you read closely, you will see that a deeper point is being made. James is telling us to fulfill the royal law of God, which is to love our neighbor as ourselves (James 2:8). In verse 2, James uses the word, “if,” and then tells about a rich man being given preferential treatment over a poor man at church. James is giving an illustration in his sermon. He is talking about the sin of partiality as an example of violating the law of love. His point is that faith in Jesus Christ works through love for others. The application of the point is in how we treat people when we come to church.
Why is this important and how might this help us in our discipleship? We need to remember that there are many examples of putting the commands of the Bible into practice. Illustrations are to serve the commands by opening up our thinking, not restrict our thinking about how to apply them.
James quotes Leviticus 19:18 when he says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When we read the original passage in Leviticus, we see that to love our neighbor we are not to show partiality to the poor or the rich in court, that we are not to oppress others, withhold wages from those we hire, curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, slander, hate, take vengeance, or be unreasonable with others. There are many examples and illustrations of loving our neighbors. We can practically love many people in many situations.
When we read and hear illustrations we tend to do two things. We say, “Yes, but…” and argue with the example given because we can see things from another perspective. Or, we focus only on the illustration and fail to expand our thinking and creativity to other ways to apply the main point.
A good way to read the Bible is to remember the basic teaching, which is to love the Lord our God with our whole selves, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40). Then, with joy, eagerness, and creativity, apply these commands in as many ways possible. In many ways, that’s what James is doing in his letter to the church.