Sometimes we put sins into categories without even thinking. Something like: “really bad sins,” “bad sins,” and “not-so-bad sins.”
Sure, I’m a sinner, but none of mine are the really bad ones. I’d never commit those.
Like murder. Or adultery.
My sins are smaller stuff like sometimes thinking bad thoughts, losing my temper with my kids, spreading a little gossip, or being impatient and irritable. Everybody does that stuff.
The Christians James was writing to apparently made the same argument. “Sure, we may show favoritism, but at least we’re not murderers or adulterers.”
James didn’t like their reasoning.
But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 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. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:9-13).
Do you see his point?
A sin—by its very nature—is a transgression against God’s will. For us to try to make some sins not as bad as others betrays a misunderstanding of sin.
That was part of Jesus’ point in Matthew 5. Essentially, here’s what he said:
“You know the Law says it’s wrong to murder, but I’m telling you to deal with the anger that leads to murder.”
“You know adultery is wrong, but I’m telling you to clean up your dirty minds.”
In James’ context, favoritism/discrimination/prejudice, or not loving your neighbor, violates the very essence of what God wants in our relationships with one another. In one sense, if we treat one another poorly, we’ve committed the same sin that leads to murder—disregarding our mutual status as human beings created in God’s image.
So what about us?
It applies to how we treat people, of course. If I disregard someone because for some reason I think he’s less of a man than I am, I’ve missed the Bible’s whole point about loving people. I’ve become guilty of breaking all of it.
We’d never murder anyone, but would we murder someone’s reputation through gossip?
We’d never attack others physically, but would we ignore them, snub them, or mock them?
The gospel calls us to recognize everyone’s equal value before God.
As sinners we’re all in the same boat—we deserve the death sentence.
By God’s grace he stepped in and rescued us, and recognizing that ought to remind us to extend mercy and grace to everyone around us.
God did it for us—shouldn’t we do the same?