These small group studies of James contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
James 2:1-13 Inductive Bible Study – Do Not Show Favoritism
I. Show no partiality (1-4)
II. Do not honor the rich above the poor (5-7)
III. Fulfill the law by loving others (8-13)
I. Show no partiality (1-4)
What does it mean to show favoritism?
Is favoritism common in your society?
Why do people normally show favoritism?
What are some of the motivations behind favoritism?
Is favoritism common in the church?
In what ways might believers show favoritism today in the church?
How about outside of the church?
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 – Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
1 Samuel 16:7 – But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
John 7:24 – Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.
1. Favoritism is very common in the world. Basically it means to elevate or exalt a person based only on something external such as appearance (skin color or race), wealth, gender, social status, or position. Nations have shown favoritism by not allowing certain minorities to vote. For almost one hundred years the US did not allow black people to vote. Women couldn’t vote for a long time. Some nations only allow the rich to vote. You all know of South Africa where Apartheid kept a division between the white ruling class and the black class for decades. Even worse, some countries’ majority commits genocide against tens of thousands only because of a difference in race. In Rwanda in 1994 800,000 minority people were brutally murdered in 3 months because of favoritism. As you all know, Hitler massacred something around 7 million Jews because of favoritism in addition to countless mentally disabled, elderly, and those who were not of the Master Aryan race. On a personal level, favoritism is just as heinous. It causes neighbor to turn against neighbor and the rich to abuse the poor. It can stir up hatred and bitterness. Partiality also frequently pops up in religion. During the time of Jesus, the Jews were extremely prejudiced. They looked down on women, Samarians, tax collectors, the uneducated, and all outsiders, basically everyone but a Jew, educated, male actively practicing Judaism. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church launched over ten crusades, most for the sole purpose of killing the heathen. Today I have heard stories of some people going to church and those in the congregation looking down on them and making them feel so uncomfortable (maybe because of their past sins or their clothing or other reasons) that they never returned.
2. Consider the cause of favoritism. What is it? I think there are several root causes. 1. Pride. Sometimes our pride about our own education or background or knowledge level or maturity causes us to look down on others who haven’t achieved the same level we think we have. 2. External focused. Often we show favoritism because we are focused on man instead of God. We don’t want others to look at us and say, “Oh look who Jason is hanging out with.” We are worried that our spending time with a certain group or person will draw the negative attention from others. 3. Our good deeds are not really good. We do something kind for some people because we want them to notice and return the favor. If a person is rich or has a high position, they can do a lot for us where as if they are poor they can’t. If they are a pastor or esteemed member of the church they will recognize our service and think highly of us, but if they are just a normal person or a newcomer we don’t care to please them. Basically we show favoritism because being nice to certain people gets us Guan Xi, while being nice to others doesn’t. James 1:27. Really the root cause is some form of selfishness. We are not exercising love as Jesus did.
3. The problem for us is when favoritism starts to creep into our own lives and attitudes. Let’s think about what ways favoritism may start to creep into our lives. Ask each person to mention 1-2 ways they might have been tempted to show partiality. Discuss the root cause of each and what the right course of action is. If necessary throw out a few ideas to get started. For doctors one obvious temptation might be to spend more time and energy on taking care of the rich or important officials. For teachers, it might be paying special attention to certain students whose parents are more influential/important, or who we like better.
4. Discuss the specific example here. How might we fall into the trap of showing favoritism in church? Just hanging out with the same group and ignoring others, not paying attention to newcomers, not being helpful to people who ask us questions or other help from us because we don’t like them, their doctrine, or their behavior. Being rude to a person because we think their motives are not pure, such as a person we think is going to church because they love English. As believers, we are not called to judge others. If they really have evil motives or other problems God will judge them individually for that. It is not our responsibility. What is our responsibility? Our responsibility is to love them and show them mercy as God did to us. We should show compassion and forgive as God forgave us.
5. Our ultimate example is God/Christ. He does not show favoritism or partiality so we must not either. In what ways did Christ NOT show partiality? Read cross-references. If Christ, who is God and the Almighty Creator was not above or too good to show love and compassion to the lowest of groups, how about us? Obviously we are not either. It is self-righteousness and pride that makes us think we are better than others or makes us want to flatter rich people to get something in return. God is just, fair, and objective. This is a fundamental attribute of His. As we strive to follow His example we should follow this as well. Christ is always our perfect example. His ministry was primarily directed to the poor people and sinners of the earth, not Pharisees or high leaders. These are more receptive to the gospel and we should emulate Christ’s compassion for them.
II. Do not honor the rich above the poor (5-7)
Does God show favoritism?
What does verse five teach us about God’s character?
In what ways did Jesus give us an example of not showing favoritism? (Choice of lineage, birth place, ministering to Samaria, Galilee, poor, sinful, and sick)
How can we follow God’s example of impartiality in our daily lives?
What is Paul’s point in verses 6-7?
Since the rich can be cruel, should we show special attention to the poor people? Why or why not?
Isaiah 1:17 – Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
Matthew 9:10-13 – While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
1. James points out how illogical it is to strive so hard to please to the rich people while neglecting the poor. The poor were often the ones who were saved by God and belonged to God’s family while the rich often mistreated believers and mocked their faith. Their partiality was motivated by a worldly way of thinking, but even with a worldly way of thinking it was ridiculous for them to try so hard to please this group who mistreated them. Why focus most of your energy pleasing the rich person who will likely reject you and the word you teach? Note that James is not teaching a kind of reverse discrimination, that is to discriminate against the rich (in America now it is common for black people to get favorable treatment now). God offers salvation to both. But because of the pride of their heart it tends to be less common for them to accept it. We must show love to all of our neighbors, poor or rich. James uses this as an example because most tend to try to please the rich. If it was the opposite, he would have used an opposite example.
III. Fulfill the law by loving others (8-13)
What is Scripture’s royal law?
Why is this called the royal law?
How serious is showing partiality?
In what way does failing the law at just one point make us guilty of breaking all of it?
Since we have all broken at least one law, what hope do we have?
When we are tempted to show partiality what should we remember from verse 12?
What is the law of liberty? Is this the same law referred to in verse 10?
If a person has no mercy towards others, what does this show about his heart?
How are showing mercy and being impartial linked?
Who is a person in your life that you need to show more love to? How will you do this?
2 Timothy 3:2 – People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy.
Deuteronomy 1:17 – Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.
Deuteronomy 16:19 – Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.
Galatians 5:1 – It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
1. Discuss the most important command. Read cross-references both for loving your neighbor and Deuteronomy about showing partiality. Discuss.
2. What does verse 10-11 mean? First, what it doesn’t mean. It clearly doesn’t mean that if you broke one law that you actually broke every single law. Technically you can murder without committing adultery and vice-versa. But the point is that no matter which law you broke, even the smallest one, you are a lawbreaker and are guilty. No matter which of God’s laws we have broken, we are a transgressor. We are guilty in His sight. He doesn’t divide commands and say, “Well you’ve only broken 27% of the commandments so you are 73% good.” It doesn’t work like that. But if we have broken even 1% of His commandments we are a criminal, a transgressor, guilty and deserve His judgment. This is made clear when you see the summary of the law is to love God and love your neighbor. If you disobey this by showing partiality you have disobeyed the law to love your neighbor, and therefore have broken the entire law. Why does James bring this up? I think his point is to stress the seriousness of partiality. Even though it seems like a small thing it is very important and very serious.
To disobey God in this area is to break His law and put ourselves under condemnation. So if God’s law is like this, what is our hope? Obviously our only hope is to trust in Jesus Christ who can pay the penalty for us.
3. Law of liberty. If you try to deserve salvation by obeying every law, you will make yourself a slave of it and can never fulfill all of it. But God’s grace sets us free of sin.
The New Covenant sets us free from the law and encourages us to serve the Lord with our whole hearts. God’s commands are no longer seen as painful restrictions to freedom, but rather a means to the most joyous freedom, freedom of sin and a way to express our gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice for us.
4. From the parable of the unforgiving slave, we know that a true believer will in turn forgive and show mercy to others while a false believer will not. If we have not forgiven others God will not forgive us whereas if we do forgive others it is because God has forgiven us and enabled us to forgive others. This is directly connected to the idea of partiality. Mercy overlooks people’s flaws, weaknesses, and external appearance in order to extend God’s love to them.
Favoritism-Special Attention-Distinction-Partiality (1,3,4,9)
These words convey the truth that natural man often looks on the outside. We like those who are rich and have high social status. It makes us feel important to associate with them and at the same time maybe we can benefit materially from such people.
Often we neglect to look at someone’s character and only look at someone’s position. It is natural to do this, but God strongly commands against it and it goes directly against His character to show partiality. God is just, fair, and objective. This is a fundamental attribute of His. As we strive to follow His example we should follow this as well.
Poor (2, 3, 5, 6)
Again this label is put on people because the focus is on the outside. Many poor people are among the happiest in world and have strong faith in God. It is to the poor people of the world that Christ ministered to. And we can get a glimpse into the heart of God in His concern for widows and orphans.
Law (8, 9, 10, 11, 12,)
The law of God is against favoritism. This is very different from the law of man. But it is condemned severely by God. We must strive to live according to the law of liberty. Then we will be set free from the yoke of slavery. However, we can’t judge by saying we are better than others because everyone has broken in the law at least once. Therefore everyone is equally guilty according to the law and everyone must face the judgement for this.
1. We have a glorious faith in Jesus Christ. It is a great gift from God. We should not bring this down to the world’s standards or culture. Through God’s grace all people slave or free, poor or rich, sinner or righteous, woman or man, adult or child, criminal or missionary are equal in God’s sight and equal heirs to the throne through the abundant grace that God has poured out to us.
8. The spirit of the law is to love your neighbor. We should do this with no partiality.
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