Impactful Faith Avoids Favoritism

Impactful Faith Avoids Favoritism

How you are welcoming people into the family of God?

Amen, thank you for that beautiful worship. As I heard you lifting your praises to the Lord, it made me smile. and I know it made the Lord smile as well because we do have much to be thankful for and much to worship.

We’ll continue our study through the book of James, the letter that James wrote. We’ll be in James, Chapter 2 this morning.

I’ll invite you to take your copy of God’s Word or your phone and go there.  I believe the notes are in You Version Bible app. If you go to events, you should be able to see our church and then you’ll pull up some notes there.

It will be in James, Chapter 2, verses one through 12.

In my preparation this week, I came across this quote. This individual said, “I would be a Christian if it were not for all the Christians.”  I want to read that again to you.  “I would be a Christian if it were not for all the Christians.” Let that sink in just a little bit. That was said by a man who had been searching for Jesus.  This man had become intrigued by the teachings of Jesus. He had begun to study the Gospels. He had begin to research and to find out Who Jesus was.  One day, this man decided to go to a church in Calcutta. He walked in, was promptly greeted, and was quickly informed that this church was only for the higher caste of people. And it was only white. He was neither a high caste individual, and he was not white. They would not let him enter the church because of that.

This man’s name is familiar to all of us. It was Mahatma Gandhi.  Gandhi was searching. He was seeking, and he went to a place where he could have found answers. A place where he could have been introduced to who Jesus was a place that could have been the moment his life would have been changed forever. And because of his skin color and because of his economic status, he was not allowed to enter the building. So, he said, “I would have been a Christian if it were not for all the Christians.”

Today, when we look at the opening passage, these opening verses of James Chapter 2, James is going to very clearly and very directly address this issue. He’ll call it an issue of favoritism or an issue of partiality. And as I think of Gandhi and I think about the verses that we’re getting ready to read, I found myself, and maybe you can find yourself pondering, how many people have been turned away from Jesus because of our attitudes of favoritism, or our attitude of prejudice, or our attitude of discrimination?

And maybe not. If the Spirit’s touching your heart and you were going to dive in, this might be a hard Word for you. But just in general, the church across the world. How many people have rejected the Gospel because of the way Christians have shown partiality to different groups of people?

And as we look at these verses, I want us to recognize why this is a problem. And James is very clear on why it’s a problem. But I want us to see the problem of favoritism, so we can recognize it in our own hearts and our own attitudes and our own life, so that we can guard against that. We need to guard against it. We need to guard our hearts against these attitudes of favoritism, so that the church can be what God has intended the church to be – a refuge for all people.

Here’s what James writes.  And again, just to give you the context, last week it was be doers of the Word.  That’s what James says. Don’t just hear it, you got to do it. Now, for the next several sections, he’s going to tell the church exactly how to do the Word and how to put God’s Word into practice. And he starts with this in Chapter 2, verse one.

James 2:1-12:  My brothers and sisters, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and a poor person dressed in filthy clothes also comes in, if you look with favor on the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor person, “Stand over there,” or “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” haven’t you made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? Yet you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the rich oppress you and drag you into court? Don’t they blaspheme the good name that was invoked over you?  Indeed, if you fulfill the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. If, however, you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the entire law, and yet stumbles at one point, is guilty of breaking it all. 11 For he who said, Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder. So if you do not commit adultery, but you murder, you are a lawbreaker.  12 Speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom.

1 – Do not show favoritism.

This is a powerful, hard Word, and it can be a convicting Word. So, James is following the same pattern that we’ve seen. He gives an instruction. Do not show favoritism, and then he’s going to illustrate it and explain it a little more in depth. And so, I think for us it’s important to understand what does it mean to show favoritism?

Because I know this, that the Carolina Panthers play the Cowboys today and I’m going to ask this question – are there any Cowboys fans here? OK, well I’m sorry. Now see if I were going to show favoritism, he wouldn’t be here, right? But that’s not what James is talking about. I mean, you’re welcome (here) obviously, but you know, I say that I’m the favorite son. Do we have any favorite children? Kate and Andrew, you can’t both be the favorite child. I say I’m the favorite child and that I am shown favoritism, but that’s really not what James is talking about.

So, we’ve got to understand what this word “favoritism” means for us to understand how serious this is. The New Testament writers are taking kind of two different Greek words and smushing them together. What they’re trying to do is to communicate a Hebrew word for prejudice. This word, these two words put together, mean “receiving the face.”

He says do not show acts of receiving the face. Now what does he mean by receiving the face? Well, here’s what he says. Do not look at somebody’s external appearance and judge them on what’s on the outside.  Don’t look at somebody’s bank account and judge them on the bank account. Don’t look at somebody’s car and judge them based on the car. Don’t look at what somebody is wearing and make a judgment about them.

Now, we do this in all different contexts of life, and it’s really illustrated in one of my favorite TV shows, The West Wing. There is an episode of The West Wing where they’re having a breakfast, a pancake breakfast. The President is going to meet with all these congressional leaders, and there’s a scene that shows the seating chart. Who sits close to the president? Well, it’s got to be the high-ranking congressional officials. Some no-name from no-place is going to sit as far away as he can. You see, that’s our culture saying because of your title, we’re going to judge you and say, oh, you’re more important than somebody else. So, you’re going to get a place of privilege.

Middle school students, if you want to see how this “receiving the face” plays out, you go to a middle school or high school and probably even today in a college campus. Students will gravitate towards students with the nice clothes, or the name brand clothes. Or you know, the cool kids. Other kids will strive to be like the cool kids. They see the external appearance, and they make a judgment that says that’s the standard in which all of us should live by. That is receiving the face. How does this look in a church setting?

Let’s say for example – homecoming’s next week, right? You’re standing in line to get your steak that’s been masterfully prepared by the master chefs. And then you see that, and I don’t think anybody’s name is Sally Sue, so I’m trying to make these names up, so you see Sally Sue’s wearing a white dress. And you can hear the little mumbling in the background. Can you believe she’s wearing white? It’s after Labor Day.

Here’s another one. I cannot believe he’s wearing shorts and flip flops!  Ever heard that before in a church setting?  I’m not wearing a tie, so I can’t believe the pastor didn’t wear a tie today. He looks sloppy. And I might look sloppy, I don’t know. That’s receiving the face. You see something external and you’re making a judgment in your heart. And that judgment creates a label, and you respond. Then you respond to your judgment. So, you don’t go talk to the person who’s not dressed like you.  You don’t talk to the person who obviously doesn’t have, you know, nice clothes that aren’t worn, or maybe they’re, well, I’ll use James’s word – filthy. They don’t fit our standards based on the external. That is favoritism.

2 – Favoritism misrepresents God.

I told you this a few weeks ago, and this is going to dive into the next thing. The reason, this is one of the reasons this is a big problem, is when Christians act like this, we misrepresent who God is, right?  Because in a few verses ago, James told us to get rid of the filth in our hearts. It’s the same word he uses to describe the filthy clothes.  God cares absolutely more about our hearts than he does our clothes. God cares more about our hearts than our bank accounts. God cares more about our hearts than the color of our skin. God cares more about the inside than the outside.

So, when Christians look at the externals and we make a judgment and we show partiality or we discriminate against someone who doesn’t look like us, we misrepresent God. We misrepresent Who God is. Look at verse 5 again. James said, “Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith?”

Now, we’ve got to unpack this a little bit, cause I’m going to be honest with you. This verse has actually been spun by Christians to become critical of those who do have money. See, favoritism can work both ways.  We can look down upon somebody for not having and then we can look down upon somebody for having too much. And, they use this verse like all rich people can’t be Christians because James says that, you know, it’s the poor.

Now, you got to understand, this is a descriptive phrase of what’s going on that day. The vast majority of people coming to Christ in the 1st century were poor people.  That’s just the way it was working. They were poor in spirit. They didn’t have anything; they were a lower socioeconomic status. Those were the Christians. The rich people of that day were persecuting them. Why? They didn’t want to give up their power. They didn’t want to give up their influence, so this isn’t something that is prescribed to us.

If you’re rich, you can’t be a Christian? No. That’s not what he says he’s talking about. He’s talking to these poor Christians who are showing favoritism in their church, letting the rich people have the better seats. But we apply it to a very different culture today. Today, any act of favoritism is wrong and misrepresents God.

So, it doesn’t matter if you’re wealthy or not wealthy. You can still follow Jesus, and because here’s what James says at the end. “Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs to the Kingdom of God that He has promised to those who love Him?”

Anyone who loves the Lord Jesus, anyone who has professed faith in Jesus, is saved. Now, you have to represent that. To put it like this, here’s what Robby Gallaty says, and I think he hits it right on the head. “God is not concerned with your possessions. He’s not concerned with what you possess. He’s concerned with what possesses you.” You hear that?  God is not concerned with what you possess. He’s concerned with what possesses you.

I want you to think about something – every time you’ve looked down upon someone. Every time you’ve looked at someone and said they’re too bad, they can’t be Christians, or I don’t want them at my church, I want you to think about this. Are you welcoming them into the family of God like God welcomed you into the family of God?

Because God loved you enough to forgive you of your sins. See John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world.” Jesus didn’t say for God loved the wealthy.  He didn’t say for God loved the poor. He didn’t say for God loved this select or elected group of people and only this group of people are going to get in. He said no, for God so loved the world. Christians, that’s how we should love the world. Now obviously, we’re not going to lay down our life for anybody sins. I’m not sacrificing my son for your sins.

But you see, this love that Jesus showed to people who had rebelled against Him that talked different, looked different, and He still loved them enough to die for them.  That’s the God we need to represent.

Gandhi could have been a Christian if that church would have represented Who God is. Gandhi was a powerful influencer of his day. How powerful of a missionary could he been if that church would have stopped showing favoritism? How many lives would have been changed? How many Hindus would have accepted Christ through a ministry of Gandhi? But yet, the church violated this law and misrepresented Who God is.

And when we do the same thing, when we show favoritism, when we look at somebody and make a judgment about them based on skin color or anything else, we misrepresent God.  Jesus puts it like this:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs.” That is Jesus representing God. We need to follow Jesus’ example.

3 – Favoritism violates the command to love your neighbor.

Now when you get to verses 8 through 12, this is where it gets pretty intense. James is going to just come out and say it. Receiving somebody based on external appearance or rejecting somebody based on external appearance is absolutely, undeniably a sin. Prejudice of any kind is sinful. Discrimination of any kind is sinful.  Favoritism of any kind based on this definition is a sin. It violates, James calls it, the royal law of love, which is “love thy neighbor as yourself.” That’s what favoritism violates.

When Jesus gave that command, it’s this little back and forth conversation. They’re trying to trap him. They say, Teacher, what’s the greatest commandment? And Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.” The person He’s talking to asks Jesus the next question. “Who’s your neighbor?” That’s a good question. Is it the person sitting next to me on Sunday mornings? Is it my neighbor living next to me at the house? Who’s my neighbor? And so Jesus then tells a story. We know it as the story of the Good Samaritan.

A guy’s heading to Jerusalem – he’s beaten, robbed, left for dead. And here comes a Jewish priest. You know, a religious leader, someone who’s been tasked to minister and care for the people. What does he do? He walks on the complete other side of the road. He wants to have nothing to do with this beaten, dirty, left-for-dead individual.

Then there’s a Levite, another high-ranking Jewish leader, charged with keeping the temple. He goes as far as he can to the other side. A Jewish man is lying there. The two Jewish religious leaders walk right by him.

Then there’s the Samaritan. Now, you got to understand something – this would have enraged the people Jesus was talking to.  Jewish people discriminated against Samaritans. Samaritans wouldn’t have been allowed into the temple. Samaritans wouldn’t have been allowed to do these things. They didn’t like them; they hated them.

And Jesus uses this in a very specific way to communicate a very specific truth, and I guarantee it burned them up that Samaritan was going to make the Jewish people look bad. Yes, because the Jewish people, the priest and the Levite, didn’t do what they’re supposed to do. The Samaritan picks this Jewish guy up, cleans him up, puts him in a room, and gives him some money to get him through next couple of days.

And then He (Jesus) looks at that the person who asked him the question.  Jesus looks at him and says, “Who is the neighbor?” The teacher responds, “The one who showed mercy.” Couldn’t even say the Samaritan. He said, “The one who showed mercy.”

And here’s what Jesus said – “Go and do likewise.” What He’s saying is show mercy to the Samaritans. Because He’s using it to say your neighbor is everybody. Your neighbor is the Gentile.

You know Peter struggled with this some, too.  Peter didn’t know if he should go minister to the Gentiles. He didn’t know if he should talk to the Gentiles. Then he has this dream where all these different animals come down on this blanket, and the Lord says for Peter to take and eat, kill and eat.  Peter says that those are unclean animals, and he can’t have anything to do with them. I’m paraphrasing the story.

And God says, Peter, what I have made clean – eat. Now that’s not about eating meat or eating vegetables. That story is telling Peter to be a neighbor to Gentiles. Go to this culture. This people who you don’t associate with, who you see as unclean, and share the Gospel with them. That’s what loving your neighbor looks like. And if we discriminate, if we violate this in any way, we sin. And by the way, what did Jesus say about these two commands? If you can love God and love people, the rest of them will pretty much fall into place, right?

Christian brothers and sisters, listen to me. When we have our vertical relationship right, when we are representing God correctly, when we are following Him and doing what the Bible says. When this is right, the vertical, the horizontal will be right. And that’ll be relationships with people who don’t look like us, don’t talk like us, don’t have the money that we have, or have money.  Remember Jesus says it’s not money that’s sinful. It’s the love of money.

Do you know why the rich people weren’t coming to Christ? Because they were dependent on their money and they weren’t dependent upon Jesus. So, I don’t want you to get caught up in that. I want to be very clear on that point.

Don’t show favoritism. It misrepresents who God is. It violates the commandment to love your neighbor. Lean in for a second, cause if everybody here is honest, we have done this. We may not have acted on it, but in our hearts, we have received the face. And we should have done it.

There’s a time in my 4-1/2 years of seminary – maybe the best example I have of this – one day a week drive into Wake Forest.  Same intersection, right as you get into Wake Forest, getting off the Beltway. Same guy every week for four and a half years asking for money. Same guy.  I’ll tell you something. In my heart, I made a judgment.  I made a lot of judgments for four and a half years. I don’t have to say them. You’ve been there, probably.  I remember near the end of my seminary career, I said, you know what? And you know how it goes -you don’t want to look at him. There was one day where I was – he was right there. My car stopped right there. And I was like, well, I brought my lunch. I just gave him lunch. I said I don’t know how he’s going to use it. I don’t know. I don’t know what his thing is. But I was convicted in those moments that you know what? It’s not for me to judge what he does with the gift I give. It’s not for me to judge. In the course of time, I’d even give him a little bit of money. I didn’t usually carry a lot, but I’d give him some money. It wasn’t for me to judge what he was going to do with it, right or wrong. It’s not for me to judge at all. God will judge him like God will judge me. My job was to love him like God loved me. To love him the way God taught me to love my neighbor as myself. One time I gave him a little money. I gave him a Bible track. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. Probably not unless we’re in heaven together. But that’s not what should concern me.  I did what I knew the Bible told me to do. I did what God wanted me to do. At the end of the day, God’s going to sort out the rest of it. We just have to love people like God loves people.

So here’s my challenge to you this week. I want you to, every day, pray this prayer. It’s a really simple prayer, but it’s a powerful prayer. This is kind of your action step for the week. Every day, I want you to ask God during your prayer time.

Say, “God, help me to see people as You see people.“

You know how God sees lost people? He sees them as lost. He sees them with a desperate need for a Savior. God is very compassionate and loving and full of grace and mercy. So, we pray – God help me to see people the way you see them and then we pray:

“Help me to love them the way You have shown me to love them.”

Every day, pray it every day. And then, as you are convicted, act on those convictions. Let the Spirit lead you into repentance if you need to repent. “God, help me to see people as You see people, and help me to love them as You have shown me how to love them.”

That’s your prayer for this week. That’s going to be our prayer.

Now, let’s pray. Father, as a church, help us to see people the way You see people. As this town grows and as people move in and houses are built, don’t let us look down on them. But help us to love them. Help us to share the Gospel with them. Help us to welcome them because everybody needs the Gospel. Everybody needs the church. Everybody needs Jesus. Help us to see them for who they are – someone created in Your image. And Father, show us how to love them the way You want us to love them. Show us how to treat them the way that You want us to treat them. And we just pray that your Spirit would transform lives. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen