The Rebuild: Dangerous Tools

Dangerous Tools sermon notes

Dangerous Tools

Passages: James 3:1-12

Calvary Baptist Church of Holland

The Church @ Hamilton

Sunday, February 26, 2017


Key Goals: (Know) Understand the power of our tongue. (Feel) Feel compelled to change the way we talk. (Do) Seek the power of the Holy Spirit to change our heart and tongue.

The Rebuild: When you entitle a sermon series “The Rebuild,” it assumes some things. It assumes that we humans have an uncanny ability to break down, to get ourselves into some very broken places. Sometimes it’s not our fault—we just live in a damaged world. Other times we are the very epicenter of our brokenness—we caused it. Our sinful bent turbocharged our downward spiral of addiction, lust, anger, hatred, and jealousy. God’s grace and forgiveness is beautiful and free, but changing…rebuilding…that is where the work is. This entire series is built on the premise that the book of James will help us rebuild our lives and that this book is filled with practical tools for us to restore, recreate, and restructure our brokenness. James tackles issue after issue that every believer who is serious about transforming his or her life must work through. James does something with this morning’s issue that he does not do with any other in the entire book: he empathizes. Turn with me to James 3.


1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.


Verse 2 is what I want you to catch. For we all stumble in many ways. James includes himself in this discussion. This is the only time he will do this, and it is a telling admission. James knows what it is like to stumble sinfully in what you say, and we actually have documentation. In Mark 3:21, when the crowds of people began following Jesus, Jesus’ family became upset with how he was interacting with the crowds and someone in the family said (James maybe), ”He is out of his mind.” “Jesus, you are out of your mind!” We all do that sometimes, right? Make a harsh comment. You’re crazy! What are you, nuts? Are you out of your mind?


As we studied the first two chapters of James, he made it very clear to us that genuine faith works. If God has changed our hearts through the new birth, the saving faith that he’s given us will unavoidably show itself in a life of good deeds. This morning James moves from the generality of good works to a very specific area of works—how we use our tongue. With these two verses (3:1-2), James sets up a discussion about how we talk to one another, and right from the beginning he wants us to know a) that he struggles with this area too and b) if we succeed in this area—if we control our tongue—we can control our entire body.


But this may be a bigger job than we realize. When I took a trip to Zambia with a group of CSH students, one of our jobs was to expand a garden plot that the community was using to grow vegetables. In the middle of this garden was a huge tree stump that everyone had to work around. It was a nuisance, so I asked why they hadn’t taken it out. I was told it was because the job was too big. Well, I thought this would be a perfect job for four teenage guys and me. How hard could it be? So we went after it in 96-degree heat. It was a brutal job, much bigger than I had realized. Look at verses 3-5. James wants us to clearly understand that controlling our tongue is a bigger job than we may realize. Why?


1. Controlling our tongue is tough because, while it is little, it has incredible power.

3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. James uses two word pictures to illustrate: a bit and a rudder. Bits are small compared to horses and rudders are small parts of ships, but both a horse and a ship will end up wherever these small parts take them. Your mouth has the power to take you places both for good and evil. The right words can result in a promotion while wrong words can get you fired. The book of Proverbs teaches us this in Proverbs 12:18 There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  Words can both cut and heal.


From the Old Testament all the way through the New, we are warned about the sins of our tongue and their ability to hurt. Two of the Ten Commandments refer to sins of the tongue: the third, You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain (Exodus 20:7) and the ninth, You shall not bear false witness (Exodus 20:16). Three of the seven things God hates mentioned in Proverbs have to do with the tongue. Proverbs 6:6-19 mentions a lying tongue, a false witness that bears lies, and he who sows discord among brethren.


Jesus warned us even about “careless words.”  Matthew 12:36–37 I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.  The Apostle Paul warned us in Eph 5:4 that Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes--these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. Even Peter, who often had trouble saying the right things, at the end of his life warned us in 1 Peter 3:19 that whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. Why? Because even though the tongue is small, it has incredible power. Look at verse 5. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!


2. Controlling our tongue is tough because it is a wildfire.

6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. A key reason many of us need to rebuild our lives is because we have experienced this. In my counseling office I have watched in horror as couples burn down their marriages with harsh words, slander, purposely hurtful insults, cruel and unfair criticisms, blaming, nit-picking. Often much of what is said is true, but it is communicated so sinfully that the truth cannot be heard over the hurt. If we are going to do any life rebuilding at all, we must constantly deal with our words and speech. James warns us that it will set our entire course of life on fire.


Before we move on, I want us to take a peek at one phrase right in the middle of verse 6. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body. The word translated “stain” here is interesting because in Jude 12 this word is translated as “hidden reef”—the idea being an unseen danger.’ It may refer to a rock which is mostly or completely covered by the sea.[1] What James is really saying in the verse is that our tongue is an unrecognized danger. We may think it is a small fire, but it has the potential of a wildfire waiting to burn us down. Listen to the wisdom of Proverbs 17:27. Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.



 3. Controlling our tongue is tough because it is virtually untamable.

 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. Did you catch verse 8? No human being can tame the tongue. That is a strong statement. This is one of those with God all things are possible passages. It will take the power of the Holy Spirit in your life to tame your tongue. Because, James says, our tongues are a restless evil. Listen to Proverbs again, this time Proverbs 26:18–19. Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death 19 is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!


Usually when we think of “evil,” we think of sins like molesting children or murder. Yet James wants us to see that gossip, slander, deceit, half-truths, sarcastic put-downs, and even joking are a big deal, a deadly poison set on fire by hell (v.6). They defile the one committing them. They destroy relationships with others. As a believer in Christ, we must confront these sins in ourselves and even be bold enough to confront them in others. James wraps up this passage by giving us two tongue-oriented tools to rebuild our lives.


Tool #1: The Tool of Blessing

We need to start blessing people instead of cursing them. Look at verse 9. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. It ought not to be so because our mouths should be full of blessings and not cursing. There is a phrase we used to use in high school to describe one of the most common curses I see. We used to call it “flipping the bird.” I don’t know why it is called that, but I am amazed at how many people around Holland “flip the bird.” That is a curse.


Parents, there is nothing more important in your parenting than for your children to hear words of blessing. Proverbs 15:4 Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. Husbands, there is nothing more important to the intimacy of your marriage than how you communicate with your wife. Prov. 12:18 “the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Wives, It is important for you to know that your words have incredible power to bless the hearts of your husband and children. Proverbs 31:26 tells us that a godly woman’s mouth is “full of wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Friends, it is critical that we understand how destructive or helpful our words are in the hearts of those we call friends. Proverbs 11:9 With his mouth the godless man would destroy his (friend) neighbor. Bless those around you—our words can destroy!


Bethany Thompson: When Bethany Thompson was only three years old, she battled and beat a brain tumor. Her family was overjoyed when the only residual side effect was that, because of nerve damage, she had a crooked smile. She beat it! But there was something she couldn’t beat—a group of girls relentlessly teasing her about her smile. Her mom said that she believed “no one could help her,” and on October 19th, when she was 11 years old, Bethany took her own life. [2]


One of the key concepts throughout the Bible is that we have been blessed in order to be a blessing. Let us fill our mouths with blessings and watch our relationships rebuild themselves.


Tool #2: The Tool of a Changed Heart

11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. The implied answer to these questions is no. Fresh water and salt water do not come out of the same pond; grapevines do not produce figs. In the same way, harsh, sinful language does not come out of a believing heart. In Matthew 15:18–20, Jesus talked about a mouth and heart connection. What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. Proverbs 15:28 says The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.


The key to changing our tongues is changing our hearts. Have you asked Christ to change your heart? Is your tongue a raging wildfire? Put it out by changing your heart. Start rebuilding this morning. Are you done with all of your cursing, lying, complaining, anger, and fighting? Ask the Lord change your heart. Lord, would you make my heart new? Would you forgive my sin, come into my life, and transform my heart?


Power Tool: As we close this morning, there is an incredible sentence that I want us to memorize. This sentence is the most powerful rebuilding tool I could give you: I know that I hurt you with what I said; I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?



Community Group Discussion

1. Read James 3:1-12 as a group and talk about the aspects of the passage that stood out to you.

2. James describes the tongue as a “wildfire.” Does this word picture resonate with you? Why/Why not?

3. Look up and read Matthew 12:36–37. Discuss what you think Jesus is telling us in this passage. What is a “careless” word?

4. Why do you think James takes almost one whole chapter out of a five chapter book to discuss the tongue?

5. Discuss Proverbs 15:28. What do righteous people do well?

6. Discuss the Bethany Thompson story. Do you know someone who was picked on or teased? How do we teach children the importance of blessing people with our speech and not cursing?


© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to use and reproduce this material in any format for spiritual, non-commercial purposes. We only ask that you do not alter the content in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. Please include the following statement on any distributed material: by Paul L. Davis. © Calvary Baptist Church of Holland.


[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 699.

[2] http://www.foxnews.com/health/2016/11/01/parents-blame-bullying-after-11-year-old-cancer-survivor-commits-suicide.html

The Rebuild: Using Your Tools

Using Your Tools sermon notes

Using Your Tools

Passages: James 2:14-26

Calvary Baptist Church of Holland

The Church @ Hamilton

Key Goals: (Know) Understand that it takes both deep faith and hard work to rebuild a life. (Feel) Feel compelled to work out your faith. (Do) Actively demonstrate your faith through works.

Sham: something that is not what it purports to be; a spurious imitation; fraud or hoax.[1]

There are few things in this world more frustrating than thinking something is real and finding out later that it was actually a sham. Occasionally it is funny, like when someone posts a sensational news story that turns out to be fiction. But often, finding out something is a sham is painful, like when you discover a piece of jewelry you thought was valuable is actually a fake, or when you realize a friendship was not real. Some have painfully discovered after years that their “good” marriage was a lie. Jesus was concerned about shams. He warned us in Matthew 7:21–23 that, if we are not careful, even our faith in him can turn out to be a sham. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”[2]


How do you know if your faith is genuine? These people thought they were going to heaven, but instead they had a sham faith. James is going to walk us through an essential element of authentic faith, because no one ever rebuilt their life based on a mirage. Our entire passage this morning is a warning from James that if our faith in Jesus Christ is not transforming every part of who we are, it just may be a sham. Let’s go to the text. James 2:14–26 

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?


The implied answer to this question is no. James is confronting the mindset of someone who claims to be a believer yet his or her lifestyle, actions, and attitudes are not Christlike. For James, works are not an “added extra” to faith, but are an essential expression of it.[3] Remember back in James 1:22 when James warned us that true Christ followers are not only “hearers” of the word but “doers” as well? Now he is taking the next logical step, and revealing to us that Christ followers not only have faith, they also have works. He paints a picture of what he means in verse 15.

15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?


 Again the implied answer is, “It’s no good.”

 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.


“It’s no good.” It is not true faith. It may be correct theology, but if it is not transforming the way we act, it is not true faith—it is empty faith that is unable to save; it is dead faith. When the person who says they have faith but the faith is not accompanied by works stands before God at the judgment, they should expect to hear, “Depart from me I never knew you.”


James’ example of works—helping to feed and clothe someone in need—echoes a parable of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46. Listen as I read it for you.


“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’


37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’


41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’


44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


James is echoing his brother’s teaching. Jesus had the expectation that faith would be demonstrated by and followed up with practical good works. Look, neither James nor Jesus in these examples was talking about us selling everything we have and moving to Africa. Their examples were simply about doing good and proper things for people in need. Clothing naked people (Jm 2:16), giving drink to the thirsty, caring for the sick or visiting those in prison (Matt 25:39). These are not unrealistic actions. Faith is not just a mental exercise; it is an act of the will far beyond simply acknowledging the facts of who Jesus is. Look at verse 19.


19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!


Faith has to be more than a mental assent to the facts, because demons do that! In fact there are several places in the gospels where demons made amazing confessions of faith: In Mark 1:24, a demon said to Jesus, "I know who You are; the Holy One of God!" In Mark 5:7, another demon said to him, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?"  These demons knew exactly who Jesus was, but no demon was ever going to heaven. They have knowledge but no saving faith. James wants us to see that an intellectual knowledge alone is not faith. At this point, James hopes everyone reading this is on the edge of their seats thinking, “Okay, if that isn’t saving faith, what is?” He gives us two examples of people who had genuine saving faith, and these two people could not have been more different.


Example One: Abraham

 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.


There are two words we need to key in on in this passage: active and completed. These words are critical for our understanding of what is being said and what isn’t being said. Let me be clear, no one has ever been saved by “good works.” Ephesians 2:8–10 tells us this specifically. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” So, good works do not save; faith in Jesus Christ saves. But works has an active and completing aspect with faith. Faith is as incomplete without works as works is without faith. Listen to Ephesians 2:10, right after we are told that salvation is not a result of works. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Abraham’s submission and willingness to obey God made his faith knowable and visible.[4] We know he had faith because he acted on it—we could actually see his faith in action.


Example Two: Rahab

 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.


This story comes from Joshua 2. Rahab was a gentile prostitute—the last person you would expect to be an example of faith and works. God was going to destroy her city, and she believed YHWH could and would do it, even to the point of putting her life at risk. She hid the spies, trusting that if she obeyed God, he would save her. He not only saved her but he gave her a husband, and she became the great grandmother of King David! The key here is that it was her faith expressed in action. If she had believed and not acted or acted and not believed, none of us would have ever heard of Rahab.


Verse 26 sums up the entire section: For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. Genuine saving faith is believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ in such a way that it transforms what we think, who we love, and how we act. This faith is inseparable from good works because good works answer the question: what is salvation for? We are saved for good works (Eph 2:10).


The Rebuild: This entire series is built on the premise that the book of James will help us rebuild our lives and that it is filled with practical tools for us to restore, recreate, and restructure our brokenness. This passage helps us do that in a very specific way by giving us clear examples of what “work” that accompanies faith looks like. Let’s take a close look.


1. Giving what is needed. The first example James gives of a “work” is in verse 15 when a faith-filled person would have “given what was needed” to the hungry and naked person. The Scriptures are clear: faith in Jesus Christ transforms the desire of a person to give. You can be a giver and not have faith in Christ, but you cannot have faith in Christ and not be a giver. New Testament believers’ faith was tangible and visible in the way they gave, shared, cared for the sick, fed the poor, directed gifts to other churches, and sent out missionaries (see Acts 4:32-35). They gave generously even out of their poverty. It wasn’t a burden; it was a visible, tangible expression of their faith!

Calculator: Over the years I have had many discussions with guys about giving. It is clear from Scripture that the most basic expression of faith in giving is a tithe, which is biblically 1/10 of a person’s increase or 1/10 of your income. Almost everyone tracks with me until I pull out a calculator and say, “Here you go. Take how much you make, divide by ten, and that is what you should minimally be giving.” It’s all just theory until you see that number. If we do not have enough faith in God to give a tithe, what does that say about our faith?


2. Offering a life to God. The second example of a “work” was Abraham offering Isaac. That was a very special circumstance that God was using to reveal how he was going to send his son to die in our place. But the “work” here is an important example of a man who placed obedience to God above everything he loved. In real life, good works often look like right priorities:

·      Putting integrity over getting ahead

·      Putting personal godliness over entertainment

·      Putting proper discipline of our children over our child’s temporary happiness

·      Putting our spouse’s needs ahead of our own


3. Receiving messengers. The last example is when Rahab chose to hide the messengers. In that moment, she chose God over everything else in her life. With this act, she betrayed her people, her former gods, and everything she knew. Joshua 2:11 tells us why she did it: “for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” She had faith, and because of her faith she was willing to leave her old world behind. The good works to which God is calling you may look less like becoming a missionary and more like leaving your old world behind. Stop clinging to old sins, habits, and ungodly relationships. Have the faith to step away and step deeply into a new relationship with Christ.


Giving without fear expresses faith. Positioning God first in our heart expresses faith. Leaving our old life behind expresses faith. These are all tangible expressions of a person who has put their faith in Christ.



© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to use and reproduce this material in any format for spiritual, non-commercial purposes. We only ask that you do not alter the content in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. Please include the following statement on any distributed material: by Paul L. Davis. © Calvary Baptist Church of Holland.


[1] Dictionary.com

[2] All Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV.

[3] Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 121.

[4] Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 876.

The Rebuild: Level the Chassis

Level the Chassis sermon notes

Level The Chassis

Passages: James 2:1-13

Calvary Baptist Church of Holland

The Church @ Hamilton


Key Goals: (Know) Understand that favoritism, racism, and a lack of love destroy rebuilds. (Feel) Feel love toward all regardless of their status. (Do) Treat every person like God does.


Introduction: [We Are the Body: Casting Crowns] This song hits me every time I hear it. I think anyone who has ever felt the sting of rejection feels the power of this song. The phrase “the weight of their judgmental glances” is a powerful line. I’ve felt that weight. I remember her walking into our youth ministry for the first time. She was very attractive, well dressed and smiled easily. She did not get two feet in the door before three young men decided to be the “welcoming committee.” I chuckled to myself thinking, “Well, she is going to get ‘special treatment’.” As I was preparing to speak, I saw something develop that I was not expecting. The girls in our group began huddling up and whispering, very clearly communicating to this young lady, “You are unwelcome.” I was shocked, and turned to Martha to ask what was going on. She looked at me and said, “The competition.”


This fallen world has a strange way of wrecking our lives. One of the most powerful wrecking balls is what the Bible calls “partiality.” When the church began just after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, it was radically counter-cultural. It consisted of Jews and Greeks, slaves and slave-owners, wealthy and poor—all of them worshiping together. This was unheard of at the time. Both the Roman and Jewish cultures were extremely status oriented. You were born, raised, and died within your station. Very little in society allowed for socio-economic mixing. If you were a slave, you associated only with slaves; if a nobleman, only with nobles. A Pharisee would not even walk into the home of a Sadducee, though they were both Jewish. Status, hierarchy, standing, and position in society determined every aspect of your life—from your friends, opportunities, spouse, job, and housing to where you worshipped and bought your food.


Imagine growing up in this culture as a slave. You have never even spoken with a rich person, in fact all you have ever done in the presence of the rich is “γιγνώσκειν πρόσωπον” (Gin-oskien pros-opon)—the respectful and expected greeting in which one humbly turns one’s face to the ground or sinks to the earth.[1] This was the only culturally acceptable interaction between rich and poor or slave and free. Then you begin gathering with a group of Christ followers who read James 2:1–4[2] as part of their worship:


My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 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, 3 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,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?


As a slave, your first question would have been: what does “partiality” mean? Because in all of Greek literature, the word does not exist outside of the Bible. The only people in the history of the Greek language to write using this Greek word translated as partiality (προσωπολημψία) were the apostles Peter, Paul, and James. Peter used the word in Acts 10:34–35 after the first Roman soldier put his faith in Jesus. So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. Peter revealed to us that the gospel does not discriminate based on race. Anyone from any nationality may come to God. The Apostle Paul used the word in Romans 2:6–11. Paul was talking about the “Judgment of God” that awaits every person after death.


He [God] will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.


Same word. Paul is describing a key character trait of God in his judgment. He does not grade on a curve. It is not that he doesn’t judge—he will judge everyone—but his judgment is based in the character of their life and their relationship to Christ, not their position, influence, wealth, or nationality. Paul also uses the word in Ephesians 6:5–9.


Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.


Again God’s character is described as having “no partiality.” God will never pervert justice by showing favoritism to a slave owner over a slave. Slaves are to comfort themselves through hardship by knowing their masters will face “the ultimate Master”—God himself. The final time the word shows up in Scripture is Colossians 3:23–25. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. There is no partiality in what? This is describing God’s judgment. God will never show inappropriate favoritism, preference, or special privilege to anyone. This is both comforting and scary. No one will receive special treatment. Everyone will stand before God as either redeemed through the blood of Christ or unredeemed. No “do-overs,” no “buying your way out,” no “sweet talking.” Our outward appearance and status have zero bearing on the gospel, our salvation, or judgment. In Galatians 3:28 we read There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. These verses are often misunderstood. Paul isn't saying that roles, ethnicity, or status don’t exist; he is saying “in Christ” we are equal despite our roles. When it comes to the gospel, there is no superiority, color, race, or even gender. Of the four New Testament passages we just looked at, the word “partiality” is always referring to God’s character. These passages go well with the dozens from the Old Testament that tell us the same thing: that God does not look at our exterior, he does not take bribes, and he does not show favoritism (See Lev. 19). He knows us and deals with us only as we truly are.


Turning the corner: James’ purpose in using this word is a little different; he wants us to turn the corner from how God interacts with us to how we should interact with others. James 2:13 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. James is saying that partiality is inconsistent and incompatible with someone who claims to have faith in Christ. He illustrates this with a story of wealth in verses 2-4. Partiality in this case, we are told, “made distinctions” between people. The idea is judging and separating.[3] This is evil because God does not separate or judge people differently because of money (nor race, gender, status). A good Jewish man in this era would have followed up James’ statement with a question: “If God can make any poor person wealthy, isn’t God showing favoritism by making one of these men rich and the other poor?” Good question. Look at verse 5.  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? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. James’ answer is that poor people have been chosen too. The poor have been chosen for blessings that rich people do not have nor understand. Their “riches” do not come in dollars but faith. So why would a church think better of a man rich in dollars over a man rich in faith? Doing that would be pure evil!


Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? 8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. This is as direct a statement as you will ever find in Scripture. Favoring certain people because of their status, education, money, fame, prestige, clothes, car, looks, or whatever is a sin. There's no place for favoritism in the heart of God and there's no place for favoritism in the heart of his people. If we do it, we are “convicted by the law as transgressors.” 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James’ point at the end here is essentially what Jesus said in Matthew 7:2 (NLT). “For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”


Confronting Reality: Before we go any further, let’s get real honest about this issue. The church has struggled with partiality all through her existence. We have ostracized people for the version of the Bible they read, the color of their skin, music styles, citizenship, cleanliness or social acceptability. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning is “the most segregated hour in this nation.” So how do we rebuild? How do we overcome partiality in our lives and in our church?


1. Pay attention (James 2:3)

In verse 3 when James tells us about the “gold fingered” man walking in, he says they “paid attention” (to notice/special attention) to him. That isn’t the issue. That is a good thing. We should pay attention to every person who walks through the door of our church and even those that don’t. The problem was not paying attention to the rich man, it was not paying attention to the poor man. Listen to how Paul wrapped up his letter to the Romans (Rom.15:5–7). May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. The way we overcome partiality is to pay notice or pay attention to young, old, rich, poor, black, white. Sunday morning can not just be about us—we must pay attention to others around us.



2. Live to fulfill the “royal law” (James 2:8)

The royal law James mentioned was: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Overcoming partiality is as simple as the church loving other people like we want to be loved. All through James we will find that he pushes believers: Don’t wait to be loved—love. Don’t wait to be noticed—notice others. Make the first move. The church turned the world upside down because of the radical way she loved the unlovely (and she can do it again). In the year 168 a man named Justin was beheaded by Rome for following Christ and refusing to worship idols. Listen to how he described Christians: “We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.”[4]


Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight

Jesus loves the little children of the world. [5]


If Jesus loves “all the little children of the world,” we must too.


3. See others through the lens of mercy (James 2:13)

James ends this entire section by basically saying if you show mercy in judging people, God will too. Mercy is one of the most beautiful aspects of God and in turn what make Christianity so unique. Mercy is showing compassion to someone in need, aiding the helpless in distress, or assisting someone in debt who has no reason to deserve it.[6] Mercy-showing people have a keen sense of how generous God has been with them, so they show up when they see others with a need. They reach out, not because someone deserves it, but because God reached out to them. They pay the bill, assume the debt, bear the burden, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek—they show no partiality.



Community Group Discussion

1.          As a group, read through James 2:1-13. What are the concepts and phrases that jump out or are easy to remember?

2.      Where is the boundary between godly discernment (which we all need) and showing partiality (which is sin)?

3.          Often the rich get rich because they are wise and disciplined. The poor are often poor because they are foolish and undisciplined. How does this fit with James’ theology?

4.          The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning is “the most segregated hour in this nation.” Do you agree or disagree? Discuss how we move forward.

5.          Discuss mercy. What do you understand “mercy” to mean?



© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to use and reproduce this material in any format for spiritual, non-commercial purposes. We only ask that you do not alter the content in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. Please include the following statement on any distributed material: by Paul L. Davis. © Calvary Baptist Church of Holland.


[1] Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 779.

[2] All Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

[3] Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 946.

[4] Edwards, Dwight Game Changing Christianity: How the Early Christians so radically influenced their world and what we can learn from them. Thomas Nelson Publishing 2016.

[5] Written by C. Herbert Woolston in the early 1900’s

[6] J. W. L. Hoad, “Mercy, Merciful,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 751.