James 2:1-13 looks at the double standards we can often live by. As he has previously said in chapter 1, we need an eternal perspective if we are to cope with the trials and temptations of everyday life. It’s so easy to be swayed by public opinion, having our values and mindsets determined by the world around us.

These verses warn us against judging by appearances and against favouring the rich over the poor. It’s easier to judge by appearances than to ‘search much deeper within’, in Matt Redman’s words. Such favouritism, partiality or segregation is discrimination and sin (see Lev 19:15. The reason that appearances are deceptive and we shouldn’t live by the world’s standards is that God doesn’t work this way (see Is 55:8-9, 1 Sam 16:7). We are His children and need to reflect His character.

How, though, do we learn to avoid being driven by public opinion? How do we avoid conforming to the world? As Eugene Peterson says in the Message version of 2 COr 10:3-6, it’s a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world out there, with unprincipled living, where it’s easier to look down on people than value them and it’s easiest to judge by appearances (fashion and riches being the easiest way to do that.) We are not of the world, however, and have different weapons. Our minds need to be transformed and renewed (Rom 12:2) so that we can see things the way God sees them.

God favours the poor (see Luke 1:52-53, Matt 5:3, Ps 140:12). They are ‘rich in faith’, precisely perhaps because they have no other riches and therefore put their whole trust in God. That is how He wants each of us to be: wholly trusting, wholly dependent. James summarises his teaching by talking of the ‘royal law’: ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. In many ways, this chapter is like an echo of Matthew 7. In both portions of the Bible, we are warned against judging and showing partiality; we are urged to examine our own hearts so that we can help others; we are warned not to despise the sacred things in favour of the things which may have shiny allure in the now and we are reminded that in its most basic form, loving others starts with doing to them what we would have them do to us. Mercy and judgment are contrasted in James 2:12-13. R.V.G. Tasker, in his commentary on these verses, says “Mercy shown on earth by the justified sinner, who has himself been the object of God’s mercy, is a sure ground for confidence that for him the sting of the final judgment will be found to have been already drawn.” We need mercy, for we are all lawbreakers. We cannot pick and choose which commandments to follow; as Calvin said, “God will not be honoured by exceptions.” Rather, recognising our own sinfulness and need for mercy, we are commanded to show mercy to others and to let words and action combine to produce congruent living.