Determining the Worth of a Person

Bible Book: James  2 : 1-13
Subject: Judgmentalism; Judging Others; People, The Worth of
Series: James - Adams

Several years ago I remember reading that some scientist had determined that the human body is worth very little because once you removed the water all you would have left is a few bucks worth of ordinary chemicals. You’ve probably heard that story yourself. This week I read about another scientist named David Sadoof-a professor at the University of Washington-who has significantly upped the worth of a single human. He said that the typical 150-pound human body has 10,200 units of the clotting agent prothrombin which would sell on the open market for $30,600. He also says that our bodies contain 40 grams of myoblobin, another blood component which would bring an excess of $100,000. So these two blood compounds alone would make each of us worth at least $130,600-a great improvement over a few measly bucks worth of chemicals!

Well, scientists aren’t the only ones who go around determining the worth of people. All of us do this. Think about it. We constantly assess the value of the people around us based on things like whether or not they share our interests and how easy they are to talk to. We consider other factors like: the kind of jobs they have, the amount of money that’s in their bank account, their level of education and where they got it, the kind of clothes they wear, the model of car they drive, the neighborhood they live in-the size of their house-or the race to which they belong. The sad truth is all of us are prejudiced because we all pre-judge the value of people-all of us are guilty of discrimination in some form or another.

A few years back the American Airlines ticket office in Fort Worth, Texas was picketed by a group called, “Uglies Unlimited.” They were upset because the airline specifically advertised for good-looking people when hiring. And, apparently a lot of companies do this. They run ads for “attractive receptionists” or “pretty secretaries.” Danny McCoy, the president of “Uglies Unlimited,” says his group just wants to be accepted for who they are, instead of for what they look like. Mr. McCoy estimates that 10% of all Americans are considered to be ugly and he points out that it hurts to be devalued because of your lack of good looks.

Now before you conclude that Mr. McCoy as over-reacting-think about it. Do you see any homely models in catalogues? No-you don’t. The women are all perfectly proportioned. There are no bald men and none of the teen models have acne. This is because we don’t tend to ascribe as much value to people who have such “flaws.” And Mr. McCoy is right about another thing. I don’t care what your age. It DOES hurt to be excluded by others who make it clear that in their opinion you don’t measure up in some way. It is incredibly painful to learn that you aren’t valued by other people-especially if they’re people YOU value.

Now, so far in his book James has dealt with various “tests” that all Christians face. He began by talking about the test of trials and then went on to the test of temptation. Last week we looked at what he had to say about the test of how well we do at living out the truth of the Bible. Well in this week’s text James’ deals with the test of partiality-the sin of showing favor to people who have characteristics or qualities that we value more than others. Let’s read our text and see what James had to say to the people in the church of his day who were pre-judging people like this. Turn to James 2 and follow along as I read verses 1-13.

1 – My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.

2 – Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.

3 – If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,”

4 – have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 – Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?

6 – But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich ones who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?

7 – Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of Him to Whom you belong?

8 – If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.

9 – But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

10 – For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking 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 commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 – Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,

13 – because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

Now the word in verse 1 that we translate as “favoritism” comes from an old Hebrew idiom which literally meant “to lift up the face on a person.” Originally it was a positive expression which meant simply to look on a person with favor. But eventually it developed the negative connotation of showing FAVORITISM to a person because of his social status, prestige, power, or wealth. And that is exactly what was happening in many Christian churches in James’ day.

He even cites an EXAMPLE of this form of prejudice-one that he may have witnessed in the church in Jerusalem. A rich man came into the church-and the usher knew he was rich not only because of his fine clothes but also because of all the gold rings he had on his fingers. You see, back then wealthy people wore at least one ring on every finger. Some even rented rings to wear when they wished to give an impression of special wealth. Around this time Seneca wrote about this custom and said, “We adorn our fingers with rings and we distribute gems over every joint.”

Well at the same time this rich man came into church a poor man entered. His clothes were threadbare and he had no rings on his fingers. Perhaps his only jewelry was the slave ring in his ear.

James watched as the usher guided the rich man to a special seat-all the time showing a great deal of respect and admiration but then he told the poor man to stand in the back or to sit on the floor. The Greek here literally says that the poor man was told to sit by the footstool of the rich man. In other words the wealthy man got a great seat and even a place to prop up his feet-but the poor man got nothing but the hard, cold floor.

James says that this usher was showing prejudicial favoritism because he had determined in his own mind that the rich man was worth more than the poor man and so he deserved better treatment.

Now-understand-it must have been awkward for the usher. He was no doubt poor himself and had been raised in a culture where poor people had little or no social contact with the rich. And this must have caused similar problems in all the churches initially. Think about it-a man who owned slaves might become a Christian and then come to a church where one of his slaves was the pastor. Imagine what that must have been like!

My brother Jon is an enlisted man in the air force. He is a weather forecaster-and very good at what he does! At one point in his career Jon was stationed in Arizona and one of our members was transferred to that same base. Well, I called Jon and encouraged him to contact that family.

I told him they would be good friends. Well they did get together and share a meal but when I asked Jon how it went he said, it was kind of awkward because the husband of the family was a high-ranking officer and in the air force officers and enlisted don’t mix on the social level.

Well, that gives us somewhat of an idea of how uncomfortable situations like this might have been in the years of the early church as these first Christians began to mature spiritually to the point that they could understand that all people ARE equal in God’s sight. Perhaps this situation is what Paul was thinking of when he wrote in Galatians 3 and said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, SLAVE NOR FREE, male nor female, for you are all ONE in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Another thing-back then the Church was PREDOMINANTLY poor and so if a rich man was converted and joined the church-well, there must have been a very real temptation to make a fuss over him and to treat him as a special trophy for Christ.

Well, in the past 2,000 years we haven’t outgrown this sinful tendency to be judgmental. Many of us still give the people we value the best “seats” in our lives while shunning those whom we don’t particularly favor. So this text is an important one for us to study because like the Christians in James’ day we need to understand that in God’s eyes all people are equally valuable. As Christians we simply must get this right-we need to get it through our heads that it is a sin to discriminate against people for any reason. Chuck Colson once said, “Certainly EVIL is to be expected in a fallen world. What is not expected is for a holy people to accept it.” Well, in these 13 verses James gives us three reasons it is EVIL for Christians to accept prejudice in any form. First of all, he says when we do...

I. ...we are living contrary to the CHARACTER of God.

In other words, when we pre-judge people in our minds, we’re not thinking like our Heavenly Father and this is something we are called to do-as Christians we are called to relate to others in a godly way. 1 Peter 1:16-17 specifically says as much: “for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.” Remember. You call on a Father Who judges each man’s work impartially…”

You know if I were to ask you to list God’s characteristics, you would probably think of His omniscience or His omnipotence or his omnipresence. You might think of His changelessness, His faithfulness, and His sovereignty-but another attribute of God’s Character that we tend to forget IS His impartiality. And if we leave this out we have an incomplete understanding of God because the Bible teaches that He does not discriminate. As Deuteronomy 10:17 says, “The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, Who shows no partiality…” Acts 10:34-35 says, “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation….”

Jesus-God in the flesh-showed this same attitude. He gave equal time to all people-everyone from a wealthy Jewish leader to a common beggar-a virtuous woman to a prostitute-a high priest to a common worshiper. Even Jesus’ enemies acknowledged this aspect of His character. In Matthew 22:16 the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher, we know You are a man of integrity for You aren’t swayed by men. You pay not attention to who they are.”

A few years ago a questionnaire was sent to nearly 2000 churches in eighteen different states. The questionnaire asked for a list of the ten favorite songs in that congregation. Nearly 1400 churches responded and the song with the most first-place listings was the great old hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” They picked this hymn because throughout the ages men and women of every social level and from every part of the world have sensed in Jesus a kind of concern that has convinced them He IS their friend and that He genuinely cares for them.

R. Earl Allen says Jesus has a “seismographic heart.” He says this because like the instrument that measures the movements and rumblings of the earth, Jesus’ heart measured the rumblings of every human soul-the disasters, the catastrophes, the turmoil. He is that sensitive to all of us-acutely attuned to our problems so that He feels all the pain of all the people in the world.

Jesus helps us to understand that God DOES love ALL people-and that He doesn’t value some more highly than He does others.

James’ statement about discrimination in verse 4 can be translated to say, “You are wavering in your judgements…” He’s literally saying, “If you show partiality or prejudice then you reveal that you are wavering—you are so torn between the standards of God and the standards of the world, You are actually moving away from the standards of God toward the standards of the world….your ethical base is wrong.”

Well this is what the Christians in James’ day were doing. Like the world around them they were saying that POOR PEOPLE didn’t have any real value. And this is contrary to God’s “people-valuing system” because over and over again in Scripture we see that God reached out to the poor and the downtrodden as if they DID have great value. Proverbs 19:17 says, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he has done.” In Jesus’ first sermon He said that God had anointed Him, “…to preach the gospel to the poor.”

Now don’t get me wrong-it’s not that God loves the poor more than He does the rich. In fact the early church had wealthy members: Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, the Ethiopian eunuch-treasurer for the queen of Ethiopia…the Roman Centurion Cornelius, Lydia the seller of purple…Barnabas, who shared his riches with the church.

NO-God doesn’t value the rich more than He does the poor but He does know that the poor can teach us all a very valuable truth. You see if a person doesn’t have a lot of material possessions it is easier for them to see their need for God. And the reverse is true-many times when all of our physical needs are met we have a hard time understanding that we need God.

This is a characteristic that I found in the poor people of Nairobi this summer. We met children and adults who had little or nothing-and yet they were devout Christians…very mature…Godly people. Just as James says in verse 5, these poor people were, “rich in faith.” They helped me to see that the old saying is so very true: “You can’t really understand that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”

So James is saying to his peers in the early church that favoring the rich is not thinking like God thinks. In essence he says it makes no “heavenly sense.” But he also says, “Hey guys-it doesn’t make any earthly sense either. Remember? These rich people are the ones who are persecuting you.” And they were-it was the rich Sadducees who arrested Peter and John in Acts 4. Acts 13:50 says it was the wealthy “leading men” of the city of Antioch who persecuted Paul and Barnabas. Acts 16 says the wealthy owners of a demon-possessed girl dragged Paul into court and Acts 19 tells of the wealthy silversmiths in Ephesus who very nearly led a mob to kill him. James also says that it was the rich of that day who slandered the name of Jesus.

So, in short, those Christians were not thinking clearly. They were acting more like the fallen world around them than the God Who loved them. And unfortunately you and I often do the same thing. We show pre-judge others and live lives that are contrary to the Character of our Lord and Redeemer. Well, James goes on to say that when our actions show favoritism…

II. …we are breaking the LAW of God.

Now-as you read this text it is obvious that James must have had confrontations with Christians who had been partial to others. In fact you can almost hear them defending their actions by saying, “Hey James, it may have looked like we showed favoritism to the rich who came to church, but we were just doing what God told us to do. After all He told us to…’love our neighbor as ourselves.’” Well in verse 8 James gives his tongue in cheek reply and says,

“If that is really why you are giving such deference to the rich man, then you do well. But if it is just an excuse-and I suspect it is-then you are committing a sin and are breaking God’s law.”

Now the Jews of James’ day looked at the LAW of God as a disjointed group of injunctions. And, because they did, they meticulously kept some and ignored others but they didn’t believe that was all that bad, because to them God’s laws were set up on sort of a plus-minus balance system. They believed that every time they obeyed a law they got a credit and every time they disobeyed one they got a deduction and as long as they kept a credit balance they felt they were doing okay. There was a Rabbinic saying that reflected this way of thinking and went like this,

“Whoever fulfills only one law, good is appointed to him; his days are prolonged and he will inherit the land.”

The Jews of James’ day also believed that some of God’s laws were more important than others. For example keeping the Sabbath was a real biggie to them. In fact they felt that even if you broke all of the rest of God’s laws…just so long as you kept the Sabbath you still had a credit balance in God’s books. In essence, they classified God’s laws just like they did people-valuing some more than others.

And many people still look at God’s laws like that. They think “I’m okay because I’ve never killed anyone. I’m not a thief, so I’m not immoral. I’m a good person.” Well, James says that’s not how God’s laws work. Breaking even one shows that you are a sinner, separated from God and deserving of His judgement.

Think of it this way. How many speeding tickets does it take to ruin a perfect driving record? Just one. How many laws do you have to break to be a criminal? Just one. How many strikeouts does it take to ruin a perfect batting average? Just one. Well, in this text James says it is the same with God’s law. You only have to break one to be a law breaker. You could say that when it comes to God’s law the rule is “One strike and you’re out.” This is because God’s law is unified. It all hangs together and is inseparable. It’s like hitting a window with a hammer. You may hit it only once but the whole window is broken.

Well, by failing to love their neighbors as themselves the Christians of James’ day were sinning. They were guilty of breaking God’s standard for holy living. So, this text says that failing to respect others is not merely an error of judgment or a breach of etiquette. It is a violation of God’s law. Prejudice in any form, is a sin in God’s eyes. God does not show favoritism and He commands us not to either. In fact, the only favoritism God’s law allows is found in Philippians 2:3 where it says that in humility we are to, “…consider others better than ourselves.”

So James says that showing partiality is wrong because it is contrary to God’s character and also because when we do so we are breaking God’s law and then the third reason he says we must not do this is because when we do...

III. …we are ignoring God’s GRACE.

You see, when you and I show favoritism we’re saying that we are the judge of someone’s value-that our opinion is the standard for determining human worth. But God’s Word teaches that the standard is not our opinion but rather the cross-that in God’s eyes, every single human life is equal in value to the life of His only Son. So our worth as individuals isn’t determined by our wealth or by our looks or by our social status-but by God’s grace. Each of us are sinners-equally dependent on that amazing grace so as James says in verse 12 we must, “…speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom.” In other words we must act toward others as people who are equally dependent on the unmerited grace of God-the marvelous matchless grace that frees us from sin’s penalty.

This week I came across this poem:

“What’s a man worth?

Does anyone know?

Is he measured by riches,

By friend or foe?

Can we tell by his virtues,

his station in life?

His accent? His color?

His peace or his strife?

The length of his hair,

the shape of his nose.

His smile or his handshake

The cut of his clothes?

What’s a man worth?

We turn to our Guide

And Christ gives His answer

‘For EACH man I died.’”

Hundreds of years ago a wandering scholar named Muretus lived. He was very educated but also very poor. He became very sick, and he was taken to the place where the destitute were kept. The people who cared for him did not know that he was a scholar and that he understood the scholar’s Latin. One day the doctors were discussing his case in Latin and they were saying that he was a poor creature of value to no one and that it was hopeless and unnecessary to expend care and money on attention to such a worthless human. Muretus looked up and answered in their own Latin, “Call no man worthless for whom Christ died.” Because of God’s grace like Muretus said, none of us are worthless. In fact, in God’s eyes we each have infinite value.


So to summarize, James says it is wrong for us to show favoritism because to do so is contrary to the grace of God…it is breaking the law of God…and it ignores the grace of God. Now-to help us internalize this important truth - I want to close my message with a video clip from a study we’ve been going through on Wednesday nights. I thought of it because it shows a situation in which two men encounter a mentally handicapped young girl and in so doing they face the same situation the usher in James’ church did in that they have to decide which seat she is to occupy.


Let us pray.

Father God,

Forgive us for the many times that we have broken Your law of love and pre-judged others. Renew our minds Father so that we learn to think like You do and look at all people through Your grace-filled eyes instead of through eyes darkened by our fallen culture. Help us to truly be grace-driven people-Christians who act toward others with the same love You have shown to us. In Jesus’ name we pray.


Perhaps God used this morning’s message to convict you of your need to go to an individual that you have slighted and apologize. God may be calling others to love someone that our world has labeled unlovable. And then you may be one of those unlovables. You’ve been hurt by people who have determined that you aren’t worth as much as others. If that applies to you, then hear this. You are so precious to God.! He loves you so much that He would rather die than be without you. Today, reach out to Him-let Him be your source of significance and if you’ve never done so, then ask Jesus Christ to come into your heart and life as Lord and Savior. We sing now to give you an opportunity to respond publicly. Won’t you come as God leads?