************ Sermon on James 2:1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 5, 2006
"Don't Show Favoritism"
"Don't show favoritism." That's what James says to us this evening. Don't prejudge someone as being good (or bad) simply on the basis of appearance.
My wife maintains that I am a fussy eater. She claims I pull up my nose at anything with noodles or rice. She says I prejudge her meal as unacceptable because it does not include potatoes and gravy. Some people are like that. They refuse to eat anything green, or anything served with a sauce, or a meat that is not clearly beef or pork, or anything that has been pulled from the water, or anything that is new and different. They prejudge and miss out on wonderful foods.
James wants his readers, as servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to know that this kind of prejudging is unacceptable in the church. "As believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism" says James (James 2:1).
What James says is not new. We hear similar words by Moses in Leviticus:
(Lev 19:15) Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.You are not to favor one group over another. Instead, says Moses, you are to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18).
I Showing or Expecting Favoritism
A "My brothers [and sisters], as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism" (James 2:1). Showing favoritism is about one of the worst things we can do. Think of Isaac and Rebekah. Each of them had a favorite son with disastrous results for them and their family. For some reason, parents who play favorites are blind to doing this. It is so obvious to me. I hurt when I see the resentment and anger it creates in the other kids.
We can also show favoritism when it comes to race and ethnic groups. It is so easy to favor some races and ethnic groups while we look down on other races and other ethnic groups. Favoritism keeps us from seeing a person as a person; instead, we see him or her as a representative of a category that we like or dislike.
There are other ways to show favoritism too. We can play favorites based upon marital status, physical appearance, education level, political persuasion, and so on.
Our culture shows favoritism to those who are rich and famous. We have all heard of those dance studios and nightclubs that allow only the richest, the most successful, the most famous, and the most beautiful to gain entrance. Our media eagerly listen to the rich and famous, assuming that their wealth and fame has made them experts on a wide variety of social and political issues. Sometimes, those with great wealth and fame are given positions of power and prestige simply on account of their money and fame. How else do we explain how Arnold Schwarzenegger became Governor of California or how Ronald Reagan became President of the United States?
All of this is not to say that having wealth is evil in and of itself. After all, there have been many wealthy saints – like Abraham, Job, King David, King Solomon; also, several wealthy women helped to provide for the needs of Jesus' ministry (Lk 8:1-3). Furthermore, there must have been wealthy believers in James' audience for why else would he write to and about them in our Bible reading. The problem is not in the money itself but in how we treat people with riches and how we treat people without riches. The problem is not in the money itself but in how we spend it and give it.
B "My brothers [and sisters], as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism" (James 2:1). James gives an example of what he is talking about. He either must have seen this himself or heard about this first hand.
(James 2:2-4) 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?This example of favoritism may seem a bit extreme but over the years I have heard of this kind of thing actually happening – that of the rich and poor being ushered to vastly different seats. In the Netherlands it used to be the practice that the rich bought their own pews in the church building; the poor, on the other hand, sometimes had to stand during the worship service. And, think about our own tendency to give special treatment to some and not to others.
C God Himself does not act this way; He treats every person the same whether they are Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor, black or white. Paul reminds us that "God does not show favoritism" (Rom 2:11). Before God, everyone is lost in Adam and before God, everyone who believes in Jesus is saved regardless of any category we may put them in.
Jesus, of course, was the exact same way as God. He showed no favoritism. He ministered to Pharisees and tax collectors, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, young and old, the leper and the lame, the disabled and the demon possessed. Anyone who comes to Jesus, finds in Him the rest they need.
James is calling us all to be like God and to be like Jesus. He is calling us not to prejudge a person based upon social status, wealth, appearance, race, and ethnicity. God evaluates a person based upon his or her heart (1 Sam 16:7). We must do the same, as far as we are able, based upon the qualities of faith, hope, and love.
We see here that God turns upside down the expectations and values of the world. It is sinful man that esteems others based upon wealth. God, as I already said, looks at the heart.
D "My brothers [and sisters], as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism" (James 2:1). Is this a real problem? Among us? Does the church play favorites? Does the church prejudge? Is the church prejudiced in favor of some and against others? Does the church favor the wealthy?
Think about membership in the Council and Consistory. There are some who think only the rich and successful should ever be considered for church office – as if wealth makes a man qualified to be an elder or a deacon. I look at the qualifications for church office in 1 Timothy and I read things like: above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, manage his own family well, see that his children obey him with proper respect (1 Tim 3:1-13). God does not say anything about wealth. If we nominate only the wealthy we are showing the kind of favoritism James warns us against.
A number of months ago I visited one of our new families. When I arrived they told me they were nervous about my visit because in their experience the pastor visits only the rich. There are also pastors who befriend only the rich in the churches they serve – those are the people they go out with and hang around with. But James says to pastors everywhere, "Don't show favoritism."
A number of years ago I was told about a couple of rather wealthy Christian families that moved into a community. After the move these families began "church-shopping." Within the space of a few weeks they were besieged by pastors and members of several local churches, each trying to interest the families in membership. I also remember one time in a previous church when some people thought I should pursue a new and wealthy family in the community. But let's face it: people move every year and most of them never receive this kind of attention. They are just ordinary families with no special status that makes them stand out. So they may get an invitation or two to join but no major campaign. You know what James says about this? "Don't show favoritism."
Maybe you have heard or read this story before – a story which speaks to our tendency to prejudge and favor.
Title: The Memorial
I'VE BEEN INFORMED THIS STORY IS AN URBAN LEGEND AND NOT TRUE AT ALL ...
A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston, and walked timidly without an appointment into the president of Harvard's outer office. The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard and probably didn't even deserve to be in Cambridge. She frowned.
"We want to see the president," the man said softly. "He'll be busy all day," the secretary snapped. "We'll wait," the lady replied. For hours, the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away. They didn't. And the secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president, even though it was a chore she always regretted to do. "Maybe if they just see you for a few minutes, they'll leave," she told him. He sighed in exasperation and nodded. Someone of his importance obviously didn't have the time to spend with them, but he detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office.
The president, stern-faced with dignity, strutted toward the couple. The lady told him, "We had a son that attended Harvard for one year. He loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed. My husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus." The president wasn't touched, he was shocked. "Madam," he said gruffly. "We can't put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery."
"Oh, no," the lady explained quickly. "We don't want to erect a statue. We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard." The president rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and homespun suit, then exclaimed, "A building! Do you have any earthly idea how much a building costs? We have over seven and a half million dollars in the physical plant at Harvard."
For a moment the lady was silent. The president was pleased. He could get rid of them now. The lady turned to her husband and said quietly, "Is that all it costs to start a University? Why don't we just start our own?" Her husband nodded.
The president's face wilted in confusion and bewilderment. Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California where they established the University that bears their name, a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer cared about.
E "My brothers [and sisters], as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism" (James 2:1). We can turn this around and look at it from the other side too. The church is not to show favoritism and no one in the church is to expect favoritism because of wealth or appearance or race or whatever.
I think you agree with me that money makes the world go round. Money brings power – especially in an election year. The rich can wave money in front of politicians and can extract all kinds of promises and preferential treatment. But that is not the way it should be in the church. No one in the church should expect favoritism.
Some times parents try to control their children by money. For instance, many parents give their children an allowance for doing their chores. So, the children do their work in order to get money. Some parents go so far as to even control their grownup children by money – withholding the checkbook if something is not done to their liking. I am not saying this is right or wrong – it is simply an issue of control.
I wish I could say the church is free from this, but it is not. Whether we like it or not, the rich in the church often have the ability to control what happens in the church by their purse strings. They withhold money if things are not done to their liking – not realizing it is God's money and God's church and it is always wrong to attach conditions to what belongs to God. No one in the church should expect favoritism.
II The Danger of Favoritism
A "My brothers [and sisters], as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism" (James 2:1). What is wrong with showing favoritism? Why does James warn against it?
Remember how James defines religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless? He says true religion looks after orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27). We show that ours is true religion when we do not favor the rich, when we look after the poor, when we do not prejudge people simply on the basis of wealth or appearance. Showing or expecting favoritism calls into question whether our religion is pure and faultless.
B What is wrong with showing favoritism? Did you catch what James says in verses 5-6?
(James 2:5-6) Listen, my dear brothers [and sisters]: 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.When we favor the rich over the poor, we insult the poor and – by extension – the God of the poor. On this World Hunger Sunday we recognize that God has a special concern for the poor. Though the poor can be just as wicked as the rich, their poverty often makes them especially open to believe the Gospel and become heirs of the kingdom. Their lack, their poverty, makes it easier for them to rely upon God alone for all things.
C What is wrong with showing favoritism? Did you catch what James says in verses 8-9?
(James 2:8-9) 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.When we favor the rich over the poor, or one race over another, or one kind of person over another, we sin and are lawbreakers. That's what James says.
D What is wrong with showing favoritism? When we show favoritism we deny the character of God. As I already said, God treats every person the same whether they are Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor, black or white. Paul reminds us that "God does not show favoritism" (Rom 2:11). Before God, everyone is lost in Adam and before God, everyone who believes in Jesus is saved regardless of any category we may put them in. God saves everyone the exact same way – by grace and through faith and not by works or by money or by race.
"My brothers [and sisters], as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism" (James 2:1).
Did you notice how James refers to Jesus? James refers to Jesus as "our glorious Lord Jesus Christ." It is Jesus and His glory that should be esteemed above all else in the church. There is no place for favoring one class of believer over another. We are not to favor rich over poor, white over black, male over female, young over old. There is a place, however, for favoring the Lord of the church above anyone or anything else.
It is Jesus and His glory that we should favor above anything else!
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