August 14, 2011

Left In The Dust - Part Two

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: James Scripture: James 2:5–13


Left In The Dust-Part Two

James 2:5-13
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith

A story is told about a poor lady who wanted to join a fashionable church. She spoke with the pastor about it, and he suggested she go home and think carefully about the decision for a week and come back if she were still interested. At the end of the week she returned. He said, "Now, let's not be hasty. Go home and read your Bible for an hour every day this week. Then come back and tell me if you still feel you should join." Although she wasn't happy about this, she agreed to do it. The next week she returned and told the pastor she still wanted to be a member of the church. In exasperation he said, "I have one more suggestion. Pray every day this week and ask the Lord if He wants you to join our fellowship." The woman did not return.

Six months later the two bumped into each other on the street. The man asked her what she had decided. She said, "I did what you asked me to do. I went home and prayed. And one day while I was praying, it was almost as if I could hear the Lord saying, 'Don't worry about getting into that church, I've been trying to get into that place myself for the last twenty years!'" (adapted from James by Kent Hughes, p. 89).

Have you ever considered the humbling reality that when we exclude the Lord's people, perhaps a person sitting right next to you here this morning, we may be excluding the Lord Jesus Christ Himself?

Last week as we began James chapter 2 we started a two-part sermon on the subject of favoritism or as it is commonly called: partiality. Literally in the original Greek ("prosopolempsia") it means, "To receive the face." We commit partiality when we judge people based on externals that are insignificant to God (i.e. dress, skin color, wealth, etc). Is it a sin? Is it really that big of a deal? Well, let's see what the Word of God has to say about this issue! I have five points this morning that will clearly declare God's attitude toward partiality.


First by way of review, "Consider the Example of Jesus." Verse 1, "My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism."

Two words in that verse jump out at me, "glorious" and "Lord." How many of you would call Jesus, "glorious?" That means you admire who He is and what He does! How many of you would call Jesus, "Lord?" That means He is your Master and you do as He says! So proof that we esteem His glorious character and submit to Him as Lord is seen in our desire to do as He does and obey what He says. We will follow His example.

So how did Jesus treat people? He associated with the poor and the rich. He made time for the religious elite and the pagans. He ministered to Jews and foreigners. So what James is saying in verse 1 is that when we act in such a way to exclude people, our profession of faith is inconsistent with the One with whom we claim devotion. In other words, we cannot practice partiality and say we are followers of an impartial Jesus Christ!

Try to imagine yourself with Jesus in the first century. You are rubbing elbows with a large crowd, watching every move the Savior makes, hanging on every word that flows from His mouth. Would you ever hear Him say, "Hey, you live in the rich neighborhood? What are you doing for dinner tonight?" Or "All of the dark skin Israelites on this side and all the fair skinned on that side." Or "Six college degrees? I'm impressed! I sure could use you on My side!" Or "Nice six-pack abs. Want to be my friend?" Ridiculous! Perhaps we are not as blatant, but do we drool over these insignificant, superficial externals that are completely meaningless to the One we profess follow? Or is our heart beating in line with His heart in that which is most important? And if so, does it show itself in the way we evaluate others?


Second, also by way of review, you must "Consider Your Motives." James said in verse 4 that when we commit partiality "[We] become judges with evil motives."

If you dig below the surface, the root of our favoritism is often a desire to obtain something for ourselves. Who is going to advance my social status - the popular girl or the unpopular one? Who is going to get me what I want - the rich person or the poor person? Who is going to help me with all my problems - the educated one or the uneducated one? The motive of all partiality is pride. And as James says, such a motive is "evil."

There is nothing in the Christian faith that teaches us to use people for what we can get from them. On the contrary it is just the opposite. We get all of our needs met in God, and then with the resources He provides, we use those blessings in a desire to serve others. We take from God and then give to others. We often have it backwards. We take from others as if they were our god and then give to God whatever happens to be left over.


Moving on. The third problem with partiality (now in the new material) is that it does not "Consider the Heart of God."

You remember the problem that was going on in this church? Their heart priorities were revealed by the actions of the ushers. Verses 2 and 3, "For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine 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.'" These Christians were infatuated with wealthy people to such a degree that they gave them special preference, which in turn placed a label of disgrace on the poor people. In the church of the living God the poor were made to feel like second-class citizens.

Now we read, beginning in verse 5, "Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man" (Jas. 2:5-6a).

James is simply saying this: "Look at your church. Look at the people God has called to Himself. The overwhelming majority of you are poor, and you are the ones that God has chosen to be His friends! If you are partial to the rich, how can you claim to have a heart after God's heart? Why do you dishonor those whom God has honored? If God favored the rich and disregarded the poor as you do, the majority of your pews would be empty!"

The point that James is making is that we must not judge people from the vantage point of the world. The world loves and admires and worships money, but material wealth means nothing to God. God is more concerned with the heart than the bank account. That is why Jesus would criticize large offerings in the temple, but praise a dear widow for giving a couple of pennies. A sacrificial giver. A cheerful giver. A humble giver. This is what the Lord desires. This is God's economy of prosperity (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26-29). His goal is not to produce those rich in wealth, but as James says in verse 5, those "rich in faith." God's heart is for the spiritually rich. The world's heart is for the materially rich. What a shame it is when the church follows the pattern of the world (money or whatever) and then shows it in their treatment of others!


Let's go to a fourth reason why partiality is wrong: The church fell all over the rich, but they did not "Consider the Ones [They Were] Admiring." In other words, they admired the rich but the rich were the very ones abusing them. Their attitude made no sense.

I was going to go with the classic cruel boyfriend illustration at this point. You know the one where everybody wonders why the nice girl keeps sticking with the guy that treats her like dirt, but I have a couple better illustrations.

Remember how many in the Corinthian church treated Paul? Paul founded the church. He suffered for the church. He poured his life into this church. Yet several of them were rejecting Paul and following after teachers that were using the church for their personal gains. Paul said, "For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face" (2 Cor. 11:20). It made absolutely no sense to Paul! "I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?" (2 Cor. 12:15).

In a similar vein, the apostle Paul was perplexed over the attitude of the church in Galatia. They came to Christ, but then due to false teaching thought it was required of them to follow the ceremonial aspects of the old Mosaic Law. Though they were free from these things Paul says they began to "observe days and months and seasons and years" (Gal. 4:10). They were given freedom in Christ. They were accepted by God, but they returned to the bondage in thinking it was necessary to win God's favor. Paul says, "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?" (Gal. 4:9). He further adds, "I am perplexed about you" (Gal. 4:20).

James addresses the same confusion regarding this common dysfunctional human reasoning. The church worshipped the rich, but James in verses 6 and 7 provides three examples as to how foolish they were acting: Example 1 - "Is it not the rich who oppress you?" They would charge crazy interest rates to borrow money. They would seize their land. Example 2 - "[Do they not] personally drag you into court? History records they would bribe the courts to obtain favorable verdicts against the poor. Example 3 - "Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?" They would mock the God that these believers professed to worship and mock the people who worshipped Him. The "fair name" of Jesus Christ was only upon their lips when used in blasphemous remarks. Sounds like the world today. Sounds like the people we worship as well! James is perplexed. Why do you worship them!


Let's go to the last reason why partiality is wrong. Number five - partiality does not "Consider the Command to Love." This one specifically deals with God's Word and the premier command in the mind of God.

James says in verse 8, "If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well." In this verse James goes to the Old Testament (the only Scriptures at the time) and quotes from Leviticus 19:18. "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord." (Observe the close connection with Leviticus 19:15.) I believe James calls this the "royal law" because he sees it as it was interpreted by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

When asked which was the greatest commandment, our Lord replied, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" (Mt. 22:37-40). Or if you want it from the epistles, Romans 13:10, "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Galatians 5:14, "For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" In other words, all the commands boil down to one word, "love." If you love God and love others as James said in verse 8, "you are doing well."

Now the contrast in verse 9. "But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors." The connection is simple to understand. As Christians we are called to show our love for God in the way we love the people He puts in our lives (cf. Lk. 10:29f). But when we exclude people, when we form cliques in the church, when we judge people based on externals, when we associate only with the people that will bring us the greatest blessings, when we care not to meet and befriend others in the church, we are acting in partiality. Such actions are unloving. And therefore such actions are a direct violation of the royal law in Scripture.

Still not convinced? Verse 10, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." James is not suggesting it is possible to keep the whole law. None of us can, and that is why we must all call upon a Savior named Jesus Christ who perfectly kept the law in our place. What James is saying here is simply this: suppose someone did try to keep all of God's law to merit his salvation, but all he did was show impartiality to one person. Such a person, says James, is guilty of having broken all of God's law. Do you know why? Because the law is a seamless, indivisible whole that represents the character of God.

The point is clarified in verse 11, "For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not commit murder.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law." In other words, we cannot go to the Bible and pick and choose what we wish to obey. All of it is important and this is especially important to remember when we consider the sin of partiality. We cannot partake in it and then claim to be obedient to Jesus Christ. And did you notice that James puts this so-called "little sin" of partiality on par in this context with adultery and murder!

Still not convinced? James lowers the hammer in verse 12. "So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty." Let's remember that James has been speaking to the church. He is speaking to believers, people who have been delivered from the condemnation of the law. Who in this room can say they have gone their whole life without one act of partiality? We are thankful that Jesus Christ took the punishment for all our sins. No one will be saved by keeping the law. The only hope we have is the message of grace, the free gift of forgiveness that God has given us in Christ.

Yet such a reality of free grace, when misunderstood can produce an "It doesn't matter what I do" response. We cannot find favor with God by keeping the law, but that does not mean that we as Christians are no longer under a law. Jesus Christ died for all our sins of partiality. Yet that does not mean we can go forward being partial to others.

James already taught us that we are to be "doers of the Word" (Jas. 1:22). Next week we will learn that our faith without any works is dead (Jas. 2:17). And here in verse 12 James reminds us as Christians that there will be a final judgment. It is not a judgment to determine our eternal destiny, but a judgment of accountability to determine how faithful we were as God's children with the commandments given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ (the "law of liberty"). We have been set free from the law of burden, but by God's grace through the power of the Holy Spirit we now follow the "law of liberty." And as verse 12 indicates, we will be judged according to that law. There will be a time of reckoning. There will be a time of accountability.

This final judgment for believers, often called the "Bema Seat" judgment, is spoken of throughout the Scriptures (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:12). And I think for many believers it is not much of a concern. "I'm going to heaven so who really cares what happens at that time." What a horrible attitude that does not care about disgracing Christ in this life or about the time he or she will stand before the King of kings in the next!

Look at verse 13, "For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy." Generally speaking, it sounds like this verse is in reference to the final judgment that will determine the unbeliever's final destiny. When we are unmerciful, it is evidence we have not really received the mercy of Jesus Christ. Jesus stated it in the reverse order in the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Mt. 5:7). Yet if we stay in the immediate context, this judgment is in reference to the one believers will face, not to determine our final destiny, but to determine how faithful we were as stewards of God's grace.

Yet the verse and section closes with a tone of hope. "Mercy triumphs over judgment." In other words, we can either fear this time of judgment (believer or unbeliever) because we have been unmerciful to others, or we can look forward to this time when we will stand before the Lord because we have lived a life that desired to show others mercy.

Have you carefully observed those words connected with partiality - "love" and "mercy." Are you playing your part to help others feel the warmth of Jesus Christ? Are you leaving your comfort zones to take the time to accept and welcome and befriend and assist others in this church regardless of the superficial externals, regardless of what they can contribute to you?

God hates partiality! We saw it in the Scriptures. How can He make this point any clearer? Last week was an emotional plea. This week is a logical plea. It is a big deal how we treat others. Partiality is an absence of mercy and love - unacceptable for the professing Christian. People are hurt, but most importantly God is offended because His children are selfish and still seeing things from a superficial perspective when their eyes have been opened to see a whole new world as He sees them!

I pray that God will use these messages from His Word to bring about some radical changes in how we seek to include others in this church.

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