The churches James, the brother of Jesus, wrote to were rather like JPC, they were evangelical churches - Bible-teaching, Bible-studying churches. But they needed to be told back in chapter 1 v22:
22 ...be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
And we need to be told too. Too often we can be hearers and not doers. Now James is writing this letter to encourage his readers to persevere in faith that they may be mature. What's the how of perseverance in faith? V22 again
22 ...be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Hearing and heeding the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Putting God's Word into practice in Christ's strength. For as we'll see next time faith without works is dead. Genuine faith in Christ leads to good works. We're not saved by works but we are saved by grace through faith in Christ for good works, which here is to love your neighbour (which is everyone) as yourself, whether they're rich or poor, which is the royal law. We've already seen this back in chapter 1 with regard to true religion - we're not to be worldly but godly & a godly response to the poor is not optional for a Christian but essential. V26-7:
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
James is not saying that doing those things makes you a Christian. Neither is James saying that those things in verses 26-27 are the sum total of genuine Christian discipleship. What he is saying is that if they're missing, our genuineness as Christians is in question.
The former Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska proclaimed in 2011 that she was not ashamed of her faith in Jesus and that she wanted to set an example to young people. She was also pictured on the tennis court standing next to the name 'Jesus' written out in tennis balls. Apparently this year she posed nude in a US magazine. The two don't go together. She is deceiving herself. We're to keep ourselves unstained from the world in the power of the Spirit.
But very importantly also in this way - by looking after 'orphans and widows'. And that little phrase really stands out. Yes Christians must support gospel-work, because no-one else will. But , v27, we must also look after the poor. And the ideal is to do both together to show God's love for the whole person. As we'll see we must not show favouritism by only ministering the gospel to the relatively wealthy, to those in our own comfort zone but to everyone. St Joseph's really is an amazing and right opportunity to love our neighbour as ourselves.
And at the start of chapter 2 James continues with another ungodly response to the poor, which is: favouritism towards the rich. But that is part of a wider principle which James reminds his readers of in v1 of chapter 2.
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. Hearing and heeding the Word of God means that Christians are to show no partiality, that we're to have no favourites. Instead we're to love mercifully - we're to love our neighbour as ourselves. You see, as v1 makes clear, showing partiality or favouritism and having faith in Jesus Christ cannot co-exist. It's like oil and water. You can't mix them. But often we think we can mix faith and favouritism. Whether its our attitude to those who are important in the world's terms or by going around in cliques. But God says no - it's not possible to mix faith and partiality. God does not show favouritism and neither should his people. Deuteronomy 10:17-20:
17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him..
God is not partial. In Acts 10 Peter declares that God shows no partiality. The Gospel is for all. Gentile disciples of Christ don't have to become Jews first. V34
34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
John 3:16 states:
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. And in Colossians 1:28-29 Paul says 28 Christ we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature [or better - perfect] in Christ. Not just potential leaders.
Yet we can so easily show favouritism. We can think, often based on outward appearance, that such and such a person will never become a Christian so I won't bother with them. Or that Christian could be hard work so I'll steer clear of helping to disciple them. Maybe you've just become part of the supposed inner circle in church and now you are in you want to make it hard for the next person to join. And then it becomes very difficult for newcomers to break in to the church and make friends. Exclusion in the inner circle is no accident, it is its essence. And yes this does happen at JPC. But why? Is it just what we do? Why do we forget that God doesn't show partiality and so we're not to either? Why do we forget that if we're trusting in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ that we're not to show favouritism? Well let's have a look at the illustration given by James in v2-6.
2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place”, while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there”, or, “Sit down at my feet”, 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonoured the poor man.
James imagines a scene in one of the churches he's writing to. In to the 6.30 service comes an obviously rich man. And in comes an obviously poor man. And the rich man gets the better treatment. Because he's the in quotes 'more important' neighbour, the easier neighbour to love, perhaps the more rewarding neighbour to love. We would never do that would we? No special seats here are there? Why? What drives favouritism? Well the hope of favour. We hope we'll gain favour from those we show favouritism to. But why in the church? Well for the same reason. James was writing to churches where many were facing persecution and perhaps unemployment as a consequence. And a man with a golden ring enters, perhaps signifying someone from the elite of the Roman army - an equestrian officer - who had money. So a fuss is made of him hoping he'll stay and provide necessary funds. And similar thoughts can go through our minds today. Or more widely perhaps we show favouritism for reasons of comfort? Or an easy conversation? And do we veer away from those who seem odd or very quiet? It's just easier if they don't join our crew. What about in our small groups? Who do we sit with there? Who do we invite to lunch? Show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Who gets a say at JPC? Well I've no reason to think this is actually the case but we do need to guard against it being those with money. And sometimes we can all like to be around those who have an important role. Then there are those who may feel they've missed out on having a say or who feel outside the in crowd who then gather together and grumble together. And it becomes another inner circle, this time an inner circle of envy. Show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
THE REASONS WHY THE SIN OF PARTIALITY IS SO SERIOUS
So why does James give such a strong prohibition to partiality? Because, v4, favouritism is incredibly serious. It is evil. As we've already seen.
1. It is inconsistent with faith in Christ (v1). When you consider what Jesus did, what Jesus taught, how Jesus behaved and who he died for - there is no justification for favouritism. It's not compatible with faith in Christ.
2. It makes us "judges with evil thoughts," (v4). James is saying the treatment we give to people in this way depends upon our thoughts about them. This is insulting and dishonouring to them and to God. You're making judgments you've no right to make. It is evil to show partiality. V4:
4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
You see we have forgetful hearts. Have you forgotten what you were before you came to faith in Christ? You were an outsider. You've now been born into royalty. What other favour could you possibly need? Have you forgotten that you are in with the Lord through faith? You are in with the one who's the Lord of glory. You have a friend in high places! What favour can you hope to gain from showing favouritism that can compare with that? Have you forgotten that it's the rich who are dragging you into court, says James? Don't set aside God's good purposes for you in the foolish pursuit of earthly favour. Only one rich man came into the world for your favour - Jesus Christ. Again think of what you were when you were called. God chooses the outsider, the favourless, the foreigner, the poor, the spiritually poor, the offender. God wants to spend eternity with them and often we can't even spend an evening with them. This should jolt us.
Have you forgotten that in Christ your cup overflows. V5
5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?
God deliberately calls many poor people to himself, to overturn our worldly value-systems. In the world, if you're rich, you're important. If you're rich you're 'in', you have access to things, to places, to people, to opportunity. So God deliberately calls lots of poor people to show the world that our riches and ladders of importance cut no ice with him at all. The only way 'in' with God, the only access to being one of God's people, is to admit our spiritual poverty, and come with everyone else to the cross of Jesus for mercy. Where the ground is totally level. And James says: how dare we unlevel the ground again, and accept and love one another preferentially. No, verse 8: If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbour as yourself," you are doing right. And we're not to narrow down the definition of 'neighbour' to our rich neighbour. Our 'neighbour' is everyone - poor, and rich. How does chapter 2 apply to our congregation? It means we'll welcome in and accommodate whoever comes, whatever background. We'll work hard not to send out the signal (by who we talk to or by laying on social things that are costly and therefore exclude people) that we're a church for the richer. And then it applies to our place in the world-wide body of Christ. Very simply, do we favour ourselves? For example, are we were giving much more to ourselves here, than to poorer brothers and sisters world-wide?
3. Partiality is wrong because God makes no such distinctions (v5). God is not a respecter of persons. When we engage in the kind of behaviour James describes, we're not acting as God's children.
4. It dishonours the poor man (v6). Why should we dishonour someone, simply or merely because of their low income, their low financial status. The answer is, we shouldn't. 1 Peter 2:17 says we're to honour everyone.
5. It makes no sense when you consider, as a class, the rich were those who oppressed Christians (v6b,7). Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honourable name by which you were called? Some of those who were rich and powerful oppressed Christians (see James. 5:1-6). Yet when someone of that class appears, he's honoured and the common man is shunned.
6. It violates the law of love (v8-13). The royal law of love for God and neighbour is ignored when the sin of partiality is practised. 8 If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”, you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for 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 murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgement is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.
Favouritism has no place in God's Kingdom. To show it is to reject his Word and law. V10&11 A law breaker is a law breaker to our God. It reveals your attitude to him and to his ways. You see, v12, if we're trusting in Christ then we've been freed to live by the law of his Kingdom, to live by the royal law. Freed to live in a whole new way - freed from the fearful pursuit of inner circles and from playing at favourites & filled with his favour. Freed to love without fear of the cost, with no expectation of favour in return. Who needs to hear that tonight?
Surely our witness to Tyneside would be radical if we heeded this simple command. Wouldn't it be wonderful if people looked in on us as a church family and saw this royal law and Kingdom at play, that there's no favourites here. Why because we're all royalty who follow the way of the King! How compelling would the invitation to come and meet our King would be. The only King who came into this world, who picked up his crown and laid it aside. To bring us favour. God's love is free for everyone and God tells us to love everyone. So don't show favouritism. Don't treat others according to outward appearance. For if we claim to be followers of Jesus we must do what pleases him. Don't just listen to the word, do what it says.
I must conclude. Look again at v12-13. Showing favouritism is tantamount to saying to God - your system of mercy I despise it. Your costly way of love is a foolish way to live in this world. To which our God says, You want to live by a law outside the law of grace and mercy. Well so be it. You will be judged without mercy. But know this, v13, it's not a foolish way forward. Mercy triumphs over judgment. Witness the cross of Christ. Even now those of us who are believers but who forget our glorious Saviour and inheritance, the bankruptcy of the favouritism system of the world, who play at favourites come these precious words - James 4:6 - he gives us more grace. Every time we fail in this area he gives fresh grace to the humble believer. So let's come in humble repentance, asking for fresh grace, and for him to lead us towards maturity.