As we move through James, we have seen clear teaching as to the nature of hard times that arise in the Christian life. James began with the truth that suffering will come, and that in the face of adversity we should not forget that God is in control and that He has not brought trying times for our destruction, but for our good. James continued by explaining that we must understand that not all painful times are brought about as a result of our Providential God seeking to sanctify us. Some come as a result of consequences of the sinful tendencies in us. In exposing this self-injuring tendency, James further explained that one of the most common sin problems that we are tempted to fall prey to is the sin of respecting one individual over another. Instead of loving others as Christ would command, we turn to rude vitriol or to crassness veiled in comedy.
Many people end up in this deadly trap of sinfulness. Imagining that they are obeying the commands of God, they instead neglect a key command – Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. This buffet-style, pick-and-choose obedience is not what God has called us to. James illustrates our failure to obey God as simply as possible. While someone perhaps has not committed adultery, if they commit murder, we do not regard them as a follower of the law but as a transgressor. No amount of law-obeying makes up for law-breaking. There is no scale of justice where good works are weighed against evil. Rather, all evil works are immeasurably heavy on the scales of God’s justice, and must be punished. Calling ourselves right and holy while at the same time not loving our neighbor well is completely inconsistent.
James explains that in our tendency to show favoritism for one person over another, we have become judges of them. Announcing love and kindness on the one and hatred and disgust on the other, we move from a position of equality under the need for God’s grace in our lives to a place of judgment over their lives. Instead of extending mercy and grace, we make ourselves the judge of their motives and their words and their actions. We fail to realize that they are human beings in need of the grace of God too, and instead categorize them as something less than us. This dark, pride-laced, others-degrading judgment is not just or right. Just as we have received the grace and mercy of a holy God, we should be willing to extend grace and mercy to those around us.
Again, extending mercy and grace does not mean that we see sinfulness and call it right. Rather, in love and kindness we can address that sinfulness as sinfulness. But others’ sinfulness should not incite a hatred and vitriol against them. Seeing their sinfulness should awaken our hearts to their needs. They are in need of transformation, not our judgment and condemnation. There is a judgment and condemnation coming for them if they fail to repent of their sin, but it is not our duty to meet out that judgment. Rather, in love we should engage and embrace and draw them to repentance that they might receive the grace of God. We should be stirred to care for them, not neglect them.
Food For Thought: What should motivate us to engage with grace and mercy those who are different from us instead of judging and condemning them?