November 20, 2012 David Balzer

James 2:1-13: The Foolishness of Favouritism

Michael looked pretty rough. Wild hair. T-shirt with holes in it, jeans, no shoes. And, even though he’d never been to church in his life, one day, he decided he ought to start going.

Michael was at Uni. And across the street from the Uni was a very conservative church. Large, traditional building. Fine choir and pipe organ. Lots of tradition. Full of well-dressed, successful, middle-class people. At THIS church, things were always predictable and controlled and respectable.

They wanted to develop a ministry to the students across the road. But they weren’t sure how to go about it.

The day Michael decided to go, because he didn’t know any better, he went dressed like he always did. No-one at Uni cared what he wore.

But this church was completely different.

PLUS, he arrived late. After the service had begun. And so he started walking down the aisle looking for a seat. (Obviously not a regular at OUR church – we just sit up the back, or put out more chairs).

The church was completely packed and he couldn’t find a seat.

By now people had noticed him, and they all looked a bit uncomfortable. Michael got closer and closer to the front until he was in line with the front pew. Then he realized there were no seats.

What would you do? Well Michael casually just squatted down and crossed his legs. Sitting right on the carpet. In the middle of the aisle. Directly in front of the pulpit.

By now the people were really uptight, and the tension in the air was thick. Nothing like this had ever happened in church before. “Somebody should DO something,” they thought.

Just then an usher started slowly making his way toward Michael. Bill was in his eighties, had silver-gray hair, and wore a distinguished three-piece suit.

He walked with a cane and, as he started walking toward Michael, you could hear the buzz. All eyes were focused on him. Everyone was saying under their breath, “Look here comes Bill. He’ll show this guy. You can’t blame him though. How can you expect a man of his age and upbringing to understand some Uni student sitting on the floor?”

When he got to Michael, instead of telling him to get up, he dropped his cane and with great difficulty, lowered himself to the ground and sat down next to Bill for the rest of the service.

It was so unexpected. But at the same time exactly the RIGHT thing to do. Exactly what JESUS would have done.

The minister continued the service. But not before he’d said, “What I’m about to preach, you might never remember. But what you’ve just seen, you will never forget. Pay attention to THAT message.

You see, the people in the church that morning were presented with A CHOICE. Maintain respectability. Keep up earthly appearances. Get rid of the messy and the unlovely and the uncontrolled and the complicated.

OR… show unbiased, self-giving, acceptance and love. Irrespective of what the person looked like. Or where they came from. Or how much money they had.

What choice would YOU have made?

Q: WHY not discriminate?

That’s what James presents us with. The opportunity to make a choice. Look at it with me. In v2.

(James 2:2 NIV)  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.

That’s the choice. It’s one we’ll almost certainly have to make one Sunday morning. Two different people. From completely different backgrounds. One’s wearing designer clothes, nice aftershave, new iphone 5, standing tall. Looks people in the eye. Confident, together, Attractive. Easy to talk to.

The other one sort of skulks in. You can SMELL him before you SEE him. Bare feet. Unshaven. Beanie pulled down over his head. Looks around cautiously. Like he’s expecting someone to throw him out any minute. And heads straight for the morning tea table. Scoffs into the biscuits like he hasn’t eaten for a week. He mumbles to himself. Can’t hold a conversation.

That’s your choice.

And the WAY you respond says something about your VALUES. What is it that EXCITES you? Is it the glory, and glamour, and power, and influence, and potential that goes with EARTHLY riches?

Or is it the opportunity to SERVE. To put others first. To seek the GLORY of GOD’S kingdom?

Which glory excites you? Earthly glory, or heavenly glory?

And the NATURAL, INSTINCTIVE response is to gravitate towards the WEALTHY. The attractive. The earthly. Look at v3.

(James 2:3 NIV)  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,”

The theory is “The more MONEY you’re worth, the more VALUABLE you are.” The more  it’s worth me spending TIME with you. Making connections.

You can tell that’s the agenda by the way the two men are SPOKEN TO. The RICH man receives an OFFER – “Here’s a good seat!”

But the POOR man gets treated like DIRT. COMMANDED. Like a pet. “You. Stand there!” or “Sit on the floor at my feet!”.

More money. More value.

But James says that theory’s all wrong. V4. When you think like that, you DISCRIMINATE. Show favouritism. Judge. And judgments like that are EVIL. AGAINST the way God thinks.

Now, most religions in the world would agree with James there. It’s WRONG to discriminate on the grounds of WEALTH. Or race, or religion, or sex, or handicap for that matter.

And even the NON-religious movements. Those that don’t believe in God. The HUMANIST societies, or POLITICAL parties. They’d agree too. To discriminate is WRONG. All humans are created EQUAL. We need to treat everyone EQUALLY.

And people do this for ALL SORTS OF REASONS.

It could be behaviour that flows from POLITICAL conviction. You’re left-wing. Go for the underdog. Equalise society.

Or perhaps its because of your own PERSONAL background. YOU were discriminated against, so you’re never going to do it to anyone else.

Or perhaps it’s CHARITY. Maybe you do it to build up points in God’s good books. To cancel out some of the BAD stuff you’ve done.

It might just be to make YOU feel more COMFORTABLE. You offer to help a drunk clean himself up. But you only do it because he’s lowering property values. Or he offends your sense of smell, or sense of aesthetics. He’s just a mess.

All sorts of reasons people try to treat everyone equally.

But what separates the Christian concern for the poor from every OTHER sort of concern. Is the MOTIVE. It’s our REASONS for not discriminating that make all the difference. And when we get a firm grasp of them. It will REVOLUTIONISE the way we think about people.

And James gives us FOUR reasons for not discriminating. Four answers to the question of “Why not discriminate?” One’s to do with Jesus. One’s to do with US. The third’s to do with GOD. And the last reason’s to do with THE LAW.

A1: Because Jesus… (v1)

Firstly, because Jesus… Look at v1.

(James 2:1 NIV)  My brothers, AS BELIEVERS IN OUR GLORIOUS LORD JESUS CHRIST, don’t show favoritism.

The REASON we’re not to show favouritism is because we’re believers in Jesus.

But it’s an unusual description for Jesus. It’s literally. “believers in Our Lord Jesus Christ – THE GLORY!” Or maybe even “believers in the Lord Jesus Christ – OUR GLORY!”

It’s the GLORY of Jesus that’s being emphasised. The glory of his power and his exalted position at God’s right hand. The glory of God HIMSELF.

The glory of Jesus is the glory of the GOSPEL. Everything Jesus ACHIEVED. Listen to 2 Corinthians 4. v4

(2 Cor 4:4-6 NIV)  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see THE LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL OF THE GLORY OF CHRIST, who is the image of God. {5} For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. {6} For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us THE LIGHT OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GLORY OF GOD  IN THE FACE OF CHRIST.

All God’s GLORIOUS goodness and power and holiness and wisdom and love are seen when we look in Jesus’ face. THAT’S the glorious Jesus we believe in.

That’s what’s so FOOLISH about people who say “I’d like to think that God’s like this or that. But I don’t want anything to do with Jesus”

You see, Jesus REFLECTS who God is. Jesus said “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father”. That’s a HUGE claim!

And James point is this. Because Jesus is so glorious how can we POSSIBLY get distracted by the earthly glory of riches?

Don’t get distracted from Jesus’ glory by the glory of fine jewelry. Or the glory of the fine clothes. That glory’s NOTHING compared to the glory of Jesus.

Much better to seek HIS glory. And the way to do that is by noticing the poor.

A2: Because We… (v5)

That’s the first reason we’re not to discriminate. And the second reason is in v5. And it’s to do with US.

You see, I’m not to get distracted by someone else’s riches because I’m ALREADY RICH.

It’s probably news to Caron. But I’m a WEALTHY MAN. That’s why I’m not to be infatuated by glory of dollars. Look at v5.

(James 2:5 NIV)  Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world TO BE RICH (there you go – that’s me!) RICH IN FAITH and TO INHERIT THE KINGDOM he promised those who love him?

I have riches MUCH better than anything Bill Gates has got. So why am I so TAKEN with TREASURE?

OBSESSED with ASSETS?

INFATUATED by INCOME?

BESOTTED by BUCKS?

Compared to MY RICHES in Christ. BOTH these men – poor AND rich. Are just WORTHLESS BUMS begging for crumbs.

Listen to what WE’VE got that they haven’t. Eph 2:4-7

(Eph 2:4-7 NIV)  But because of his great love for us, God, who is RICH IN MERCY, {5} made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. {6} And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, {7} in order that in the coming ages he might show THE INCOMPARABLE RICHES OF HIS GRACE, expressed in his KINDNESS TO US IN CHRIST JESUS.

That’s the second reason we shouldn’t discriminate. We’re ALREADY rich.

A3. Because God… (v5)

And the third reason’s in v5 too. We should take notice of the poor because that’s the way GOD works. “Hasn’t GOD chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world”.

God NEVER looks to those who APPEAR to be the best bets. He ALWAYS chooses the LEAST.

Like why he chose Israel. Look at what he says in Deut 7 v6. One of my favourite verses in the whole Bible.

(Deu 7:6-8 NIV)  For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has CHOSEN you out of ALL the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. {7} The LORD did NOT set his affection on you and choose you because you were more NUMEROUS than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. (or because they were the richest, or had the best potential. Why did he do it then?){8} But it was because the LORD  LOVED YOU.

And nothing changes in the New Testament. Look at what Paul says to the Corinthians. And to us. 1 Corinthians 1 v26

(1 Cor 1:26-31 NIV)  Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. {27} But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. {28} He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, {29} so that no one may boast before him. {30} It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. {31} Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

God chooses those who are WEAK. And POOR. And unintelligent. And unattractive. And without connections or influence. (Don’t take it personally, but that’s you guys!)

And yet we assume that the BEST Christians – the most useful and significant – will be those with the money. And the influence. And the experience. And the abilities. And so we gravitate towards them.

And so we love to hear about the CELEBRITY Christian. Kate Bracks from Masterchef. Or Jarad Hayne, the Parramatta footy player. Or Andrew Scipione the NSW Police Commissioner. We think how INFLUENTIAL they’ll be.

And even though it’s fantastic that God’s saving people from ALL walks of life, we shouldn’t be more excited about THAT Christian testimony than any other.

Because it’s not the way God works. God loves to choose the LEAST and the LAST and the LOST. And then he USES people like that to build his kingdom.

And so WE should love people like that TOO. That’s the third reason.

A4. Because the law… (1:27; v8-11)

And the fourth reason is to do with the law. We should look after the poor because the law says so. That’s the behaviour that pleases God. Remember back to Ch 1 v27?

(James 1:27 NIV)  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress

(The ones nobody else notices. The ones who can’t return the favour.)

But it’s more than just some little sub-point of the law. To discriminate against the poor is to break one of THE GREATEST COMMANDS of all. Look at Ch 2 v8.

(James 2:8-9 NIV)  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.

Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s in Lev 19:8.

And when Jesus was asked what the most important laws were, he named THIS ONE as one of two. Because it’s a SUMMARY of a whole lot of other laws.

That’s why James calls it the ROYAL law. Or the Law OF THE KING. Because it’s the law of KING JESUS. The law which characterizes his KINGDOM.

And it’s Jesus’ kingdom we’re inheriting according to v5. Which is why it’s appropriate to behave according to the LAWS of that kingdom.

If you’re INHERITING a kingdom, then behave according to its RULES.

And that means not showing favouritism. Because to show favouritism is to NOT show LOVE. It’s as black and white as that. Love should be unconditional, without strings. But favouritism is conditional. Your treatment of someone depends on what they’re LIKE.

YOU SHOW YOU’RE NOT PART OF THE KINGDOM WHEN DON’T LOVE. WHEN YOU PICK AND CHOOSE WHO YOU’LL HELP.

James continues. Be challenged. BUT DON’T LOSE HEART. Yes, Jesus commands us to LOVE. And it’s a high bar to clear. But it’s NOT IMPOSSIBLE. Look at v12.

(James 2:12 NIV)  Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law…

(That all sounds a bit depressing. Oppressive. Too hard to measure up to.)

The problem with LAW is only 100% will do. We all fail according to THAT law. But that’s not the law we’re to be judged under. James goes on.

(James 2:12 NIV)  Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by THE LAW THAT GIVES FREEDOM,

THAT’S the law for the Christian. Jesus has SATISFIED the perfect demands of God’s law. We have ALREADY been declared righteous. So, James says, speak and act in OBEDIENT RESPONSE to that freedom. We have been freed FROM judgment. And FREED TO obedience. Speak and act that way.

Because of the work of the Son, the Father has made you a new person – regenerated you. And given you his Spirit. You are now ABLE to obey. You have the FREEDOM to DO what God desires. To love your neighbour as yourself. To NOT show favouritism. To look after the poor.

So DO IT. Speak and act in obedience.

Conclusion:

How will this affect your attitude to people? To visitors at church. Neighbours you wave at, but never speak to. People you meet at the School Fete next week.

EVERYONE has value. God chooses the ones we wouldn’t give a second glance to. So GIVE them a second glance. See the VALUE that God places on them.

Perhaps even people here at church you don’t talk to because you ASSUME you’ve got nothing in common with them.

Nothing in common EXCEPT CHRIST. So why not make HIM the topic of your conversation?

And the flip-side of this is your attitude to the ATTRACTIVE. The RICH.

I was over at Bellevue Hill the other day watching Daniel play cricket. And the road opposite the park was Wolseley Rd, Point Piper. One of the most expensive streets of Real Estate IN THE WORLD. With $50 million properties!

The lives of people there are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Waterfront, servants, cars, boats, views, parties. They have NONE of the problems we face.

It’s easy to look at these people and ASSUME. Assume they’re HAPPY. That THESE people really have it together. That they have a glory that’s worth striving for. Worth being jealous of.

And it was tempting to wonder whether I really had anything to offer them. Whether the gospel would IMPROVE what they had.

It’s easy to be INFATUATED BY INCOME.

And to lose sight of the GLORIOUS Lord Jesus we follow. And the riches we have in him. And that all THAT stuff just pales into insignificance compared to our inheritance.

Don’t ever think that people you know. Impressive, in-control, capable attractive people – don’t NEED Christ. Because they DO. Without him, they’re headed for an eternity of darkness and loneliness and punishment. No matter HOW rich they are.

Let me share one final story. WL went to CSP church when I was there. He grew up on the North Shore. Went to a good school. And trained as a medical doctor. He’s married to A who’s also a doctor. They live in a nice house on the northern beaches.

Life could have been very comfortable for W. But every week for the last 10 years or so before I was there, he’d run the Ezekiel ministry in the Surry Hills area. For the homeless, the poor, those in welfare housing, those with psychiatric illnesses – schizophrenia or depression. They’re often anti-social, and smelly. Terrible personal hygiene and health. He’s seen a number of them die over the years. Folk most people want nothing to do with.

And every week they’d meet to talk, study the Bible, and have a meal together. Warren would help with medical matters. And some of them have become his brothers and sisters in Christ.

W could see the passing glory of this world’s riches. And the eternal, glorious riches of Christ, and our inheritance in him. And so he doesn’t show favouritism.

For YOU, it will look like something different.

But it’s got to LOOK LIKE something. You can just SAY it.

How are YOU not going to show favouritism, and instead show how much you VALUE THE RICHES OF YOUR ETERNAL INHERITANCE?

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