August 7, 2011

Left In The Dust - Part One

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: James Scripture: James 2:1–4


Left In The Dust-Part One

James 2:1-4
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith

A letter I received several years ago:

Dear Pastor:

I moved to the Belmar area a couple of months ago and have been looking for a new home church. I recently visited your church as a possibility. I enjoyed the service and the message I heard. However, I must point out a concern I have. Hopefully you will have the same concern.

One of the most important things I look for when I visit a church is how welcomed I feel before, during and after the service. I decide this mostly by how many people greet me or introduce themselves to me. This is my area of concern for you and your "flock." Only one person shook my hand, introduced himself to me and welcomed me. Sadly, this was the greeter at the door upon my entrance. I, in turn, introduced myself to one gentleman after the service in an effort to delay my exit in hopes of others coming to me and welcoming me. It didn't happen.

To make this point a little clearer, I recently attended [another church in] Belmar and had at least 15-20 people welcome me personally before, at the start of and after the service. What a warm welcome that was. It made me feel a part of them immediately. I walked out of there feeling great and like God touched me that day. I would think this is what you would want also. My concern here is not to blame you, but to help you. If other believers, and, more importantly, nonbelievers, come and visit, do you want them to feel the same I did?

It is interesting that in your letter you sent me after visiting your church you quoted Eph 4:15 and put "Speaking The Truth in Love" on your letterhead. Well sir, Love is a verb. Verbs are action words. I believe that as believers we should Love One Another as God commanded us to. A handshake and a "welcome" is an act of Love.

I am happy to say that after serving here at Grace now for over ten years, this is the only letter I have ever received with these sentiments. Yet it is among my convictions that many more of these letters could have been written. I would never deny that we have a friendly church. You will not find a more loving group of people. However, I would say that our church as a whole needs to mature in the ways we demonstrate that love to others. In my humble opinion this is an area of weakness, and that weakness is having a direct effect on the way we minister God's love to others.

Let's pretend someone comes to our church, either as a visitor or a new person in need with few connections. When will they receive the personal love of Jesus Christ from others in the church? Before the service? Many of you don't attend Sunday school and most of you arrive just on time for the service. There are still a considerable handful that are finding their seats long after the music begins. So it is not happening then. Will it happen during the service when we greet one another for one minute? As creatures of habit we sit in the same seats, and I would wager most greet the same two to three people each morning. So it's not happening then. Will it happen after the service? Many go straight for the doors when the service ends. The rest of you go to the fellowship room, but as I have observed your conversations are always with the same people. So it's not happening then either.

I am not saying we are too shy to meet new people. I am not saying we are too unloving to care about new people. I am saying that we are too busy and too self-consumed to recognize that there are other people around us that should take a greater priority in our hearts than our friends and our problems and our lunches on Sunday morning. Oftentimes we are only given one chance before such people conclude that our church or the whole Christian faith is nothing but a cold bunch of self-centered hypocrites. They may have listened to good music, heard a good sermon, appreciated a beautiful building, but in their opinion, the love of Jesus Christ was never present. It is doubtful that they will ever return.

A couple of years ago my daughter's rec. basketball team was composed almost entirely of students from St. Rose. My daughter goes to Belmar. I can remember sitting in the bleachers and watching the conversations between all the parents that knew each other. They were happening all around me without ever acknowledging my presence. Ever feel invisible? It is a very uncomfortable feeling!

For Christians, worship is to happen throughout the day. We do it individually. We do it with our families. And we do it once a week when we corporately gather on the Lord's Day. Apart from the personal interaction, the Internet offers us almost the same opportunities from the seat of our Lazy-Boy. So if we come late and bolt early, if we ignore different faces around us (either through indifference or worse, intentional discrimination), why do we ever leave the comforts of our own home? This is a group experience, and one key aspect of that worship is ministering to all the people that are part of your body. Anything less and we are guilty of what the Bible calls favoritism or partiality.

As we begin the second chapter of James, this was obviously a problem in the early church as well. This morning with our limited time as we prepare for the Lord's Table, we will look at "The Command" and "The Consequence" regarding partiality. Next week we will consider "The Correction." When we're done, I believe you will see the seriousness of this error as never before.


We begin with "The Command." Verse 1, "My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude ofpersonal favoritism."

James has been discussing what it means to be a "doer of the Word." He said a "doer of the Word" bridles his tongue, helps needy people and avoids being polluted by the world. We could say this now is a fourth distinction. A "doer of the Word" does not engage in partiality.

"Personal favoritism," literally means to "receive the face." It was a Greek word virtually invented by the New Testament writers. It means to receive someone based upon externals: face, dress, ethnicity, giftedness, education, intelligence, social status, house, car, popularity, etc. The command is throughout the Bible. Some examples: Proverbs 24:23, "These also are sayings of the wise. To show partiality in judgment is not good." 1 Timothy 5:21, "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality." And God speaking in Malachi 2:9, "So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in the instruction." Whenever we treat others as inferior based upon their externals we are guilty of committing this sin. And what James is saying in verse 1 is that when we do this, such an attitude is inconsistent with faith in Jesus Christ.

Let me put it this way: we submit to Jesus in faith. We call Him as James does in verse 1 "glorious" and "Lord" because we acknowledge that His ways are right and true. He sets the standard of appropriate conduct, and we demonstrate ourselves to be His followers by doing as He does.

So we ask ourselves, is Jesus partial? Does He take preference in one ethnicity? Does He favor people based on their money? Does He delight in worldly accomplishments? Of course not! He ministered to the religious elite and the prostitutes. He spoke to the poor and the rich. He had compassion on the Samaritan woman and the Roman centurion. We get so caught up in the externals, and they mean absolutely nothing to God. 1 Samuel 16:7, "For man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." Romans 2:11, "For there is no partiality with God" (cf. Dt. 10:17-18; Ac. 10:34; Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25). This includes any form of discrimination, anything from as bad as saying, "I don't want 'those kinds of people' in my church," all the way down the line to "I only associate with my friends on Sunday mornings." It is inconsistent with Jesus Christ and a contradiction from those who profess to follow Him.


From "The Command" we go to point number two: "The Consequence." When we are guided by our sinful emotions or by the world and not the character of Jesus Christ, we will discriminate against others and judge them by insignificant superficial externals. The things that are important to us soon become the standards by which we evaluate others.

Lewis Smedes said it well, "We put labels on people the way designers sew labels on their clothes. And then we let the labels tell us what people are and what they are worth. If we value intelligence in children we label them as slow or fast learners and we ask how are they doing in school? If we value money, we label people aswell-to-do or poor and the first thing we wonder about people is how much money they make. If we value physical appearance, we label people as attractive or unattractive, and the first thing we ask about a person is what do they look like."

In the first century the people back then, no different than today, put a high premium on money. Contrary to God's opinion they thought rich people proved themselves to be more successful. Rich people were of greater personal value because of what they could provide. This elevation of the rich and subsequent de-valuing of the poor showed itself in the church services. Could the church ushers have made their attitude any clearer in the way they escorted people to their seats?

Verses 2 and 3: "For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring [a sign of wealth back then] and dressed in fine ["dazzling"] clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool.'"

I do not believe I need to explain the illustration. Most Commentators also believe this was not a hypothetical situation, but an actual event that was happening. Maybe we find it shocking that such an action was occurring in the churches back then!

I can remember how shocked I was when one of my older professors in Bible College shared a similar story about church life down south in the 50's. He was shocked when he saw a black man reach his hand through a curtain to receive Communion because he was not allowed to sit with the rest of the white congregation. This professor later became an advocate for the integration of African-Americans in the mainline churches. It was a discrimination that did not easily die. He commented about the death threats on his life.

I know these are extreme examples, but is there any partiality happening in our church? Perhaps money or skin color - or any other externals that we are admiring whereby others are feeling like second-class citizens. How would we receive a homeless person? Would a biker or hippie be embraced by this congregation? Is there worldly partiality or do we see all people as precious souls created in the image of God?

His name is Bill. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans, and no shoes. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college. He is brilliant. He is kind of profound and very, very bright. He became a Christian while attending college. Across the street from the campus is a well-dressed, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the students but are not sure how to go about it.

One day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt full of holes, and wild hair. The service has already started and so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can't find a seat. By now, people are really looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything. Bill gets closer and closer and closer to the pulpit, and when he realizes there are no seats, he just sits down right on the carpet. By now the people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick.

About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, a deacon is slowly making his way toward Bill. Now the deacon, in his eighties, has silver-gray hair, and a three-piece suit. He is a godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and, as he starts walking toward this boy, everyone is saying to themselves that you can't blame him for what he's going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor?

It takes a long time for the man to reach the boy. The church is utterly silent except for the clicking of the man's cane. All eyes are focused on him. You can't even hear anyone breathing. The minister can't even preach the sermon until the deacon does what he has to do. And now, to their amazement, they see this elderly man drop his cane on the floor and he lowers himself to sit down next to Bill. There, he worships with the young man so he won't be alone.

Everyone chokes up with emotion. When the minister gains control, he says: "What I'm about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget."

Why do we have such a hard time acting in this spirit? Why do we often minister to those most like us? Why do we gravitate to the people who can do the most for us? Why is considering others in the church above your own family the hardest obstacle for most elders and deacons to overcome? Why do we drift toward our friends and not new faces on Sunday mornings? Why do we run in and run out of the church and never consider that God may use us to touch someone's heart? Why do we hate to be excluded, but have no problems doing it to others?

Simply put, it is our love for self. The Bible calls it sin, and it is sub-Christian in all its components. When we act this way James in verse 4 says, "[We] have…made distinctions among [our]selves, and become judges with evil motives." We make the judgment as if we were God. We place people into categories. Those worthy of our attention because of what they can contribute to me and those who can contribute nothing to my personal gain and are therefore not worthy of my time. What "evil motives!"

Last week in anticipation of this sermon I made arrangements to plant four visitors in the church this morning. At first I was going to recruit some obvious stereotypes. Then I considered using individuals that would just blend in. And then at the conclusion of the sermon (right now), I was going to call these people up to the pulpit to explain their experience. Did they feel welcomed with the love of Christ? I pulled the plug near the end of the week, but what responses do you think we would have received if I had followed through on this little experiment?

My friends, we are about to go to the Lord's Table. The ordinance represents communion with us and the Lord and with us and each other. Jesus died for all types of people. He did not exclude sinners from coming to Him. As a matter of fact, that is the purpose for which He came. As a matter of fact, His greatest following was from among those the world rejected. How must He feel when we exclude what He has accepted? How must He feel when we make distinctions that divide the body which He united?

other sermons in this series

Feb 5


Sheep Shepherding Sheep

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:19 Series: James

Jan 29


Let's Close With Prayer

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:13–18 Series: James

Jan 15


To Tell You The Truth

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:12 Series: James