Peninsula Community Church
James – Who Is The Favorite?
March 17, 2013
James 2:1-7 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 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, 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,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
While we were in Florida this past week one of the discussions that occurred on a number of occasions was who was grandma’s favorite? This actually was comical at times but Michelle summed it up the best. We were all grandma’s favorites. That was the character and representation of who grandma Winter was. She had the capacity to make everyone believe that they were her favorite.
God is like that. God does not show favoritism. All are on equal footing at the cross. Because God shows no favorites, He also calls the church to show no favorites. We are to somehow make everyone feel they are God’s favorite. And yet as we live out our lives we encounter people who make this a difficult proposition. In the passage before us, James deals with the prejudices evident in the church of his day. He bases his comments on the condition of the church at the time. The issue at hand was that there were those within the church that made decisions about a person solely on their outward appearance and not the condition of their heart.
This addressing of favoritism is in keeping with James’s reputation as “the Just.” James’s term for “favoritism” is the Greek word “prosopolempsia.” This particular word is one that is not used in secular Greek literature. It is a compound word that literally means “to take hold of the face.” It is used to describe someone who makes an immediate judgment of people based on their appearance. It is a word that has been formulated to describe a situation in the church of James’ day. The problem was apparently a common concern in the New Testament church. James’s use of the word is similar to that used by both Peter and Paul. God’s impartiality is asserted in 1 Peter 1:17 where Peter connotes that God judges impartially. In Acts 10:34 Peter understood that God shows no impartiality. Paul in Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25 and Romans 2:11 infers God’s impartiality toward his people.
James calls on the church to avoid showing favoritism. We must note that in James’ letter there were no divisions between the verses. So, for us to fully understand this passage we must read it in context with the previous verses because there is continuity from 1:27 to 2:1. James says instructs the church to not show favoritism because that would be an instance of “being polluted by the world.” Impartiality is a necessary outworking of our faith because we must administer the same standard of justice to being impartial as we do to “look after orphans and widows in their distress.”
The problem for James is that there were those who preferred the rich and well to do above those who were poor and limited in their ability. The rich and well to do were given the best seats in the church and were applauded for their efforts. The problem however is that they lacked the character needed as passionate followers of Christ. This is illustrated by James’ reference to the fact that the very people they honored were the very people that were taking them to court and suing them for the least of issues.
Today, we experience prejudices of all kinds: wealth versus poverty, the haves and have nots, one’s nationality, one’s denominational leanings, one’s size/weight/height, one’s birth as in the North or the South, and so. It is noteworthy to see that today we have reversed the roles in many ways. Today there seems to be a prejudice against those who are wealthy. The wealthy are being demonized as if they were the cause of all of America’s problems and if somehow we were to diminish their value then we would be better off as a nation. How absurd is that? But that is the point that James is making. Every person has value in God’s eyes. Every believer has a place in the Kingdom.
Illustration – The story is told about an upscale, conservative church. One Sunday morning, about halfway through the service, a young man entered the church. He was barefoot and was wearing a pair of those jeans that revealed his underwear. He was also adorned with multiple piercings which included a metal ring in his ear that had caused the hole where the ring was inserted to be almost one inch in diameter. He was also tattooed on almost every part of his exposed body. Because the church was crowded, the young man couldn’t find a seat and the ushers had already seated themselves. The church was both surprised and aghast that the young man walked straight down the main aisle and sat on the floor right in front of the preacher. A quick rumble of whispers began when an older elder stood up and began to move toward the young man. Some of those attending the service thought at least someone is going to deal with this problem but to everyone’s amazement the older, conservative elder removed his jacket, took his tie off and removed his shoes and sat on the floor next to the young man. The rumblings turned to tears as they were overwhelmed by the actions of the elder. Needless to sat, no one ever forgot this simple act of kindness.
In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior.
Let me be quick to make an observation about prejudices. We need to understand that there is a difference between showing favoritism and tolerating sin. Today, there is a call for tolerance which is no more than a cloaked verbalism for acceptance of sin. God has always been against showing favoritism but he never supports the toleration of sin. In this passage, James is not calling us to accept sin. Too often liberal interpretations of such scripture lead some to believe that we are to tolerate sin and sinful actions. As we think of tolerance the problem is that too often tolerance is a one way street. Those that preach a strong tolerance message are often intolerant of others.
Rather than tolerance James is dealing with favoritism that is based on the outward appearance. Do you remember the story of David’s selection as King? As Samuel and David’s father were reviewing the possibility of David’s brothers being King. God spoke to Samuel that it is not the outward appearance that counts but the internal expression of God’s grace. The fact is, God is not interested in the size of your bank account or what you wear, he is interested in the character of your heart.
As I was preparing for this message I came across a phrase that would be useful for our understanding. The phrase is “compromised by the superficial.” The phrase in essence states that too often we are misled and misguided by the outward expressions of others. It might be their emotional exuberance. It might be their intellectual prowess. It might be the flaunting of their wealth, but all of that is insignificant if the heart does not match up to the outward expression. We can be easily seduced and compromised by the superficial. How many have gone into business or have married someone because they were comprised by the superficial. It is for that reason that God calls us to a deeper relationship with Christ.
Before we move on let me make this one comment. The idea of favoritism does not mean that we do not have people that we hang out with more than others, it simply means that we do not credit of discredit others simply by their outward dress or facade.
The second area that needs to be addressed is the idea of tolerance. We have already mentioned this briefly. The problem is that tolerance gives way to and allows sin to go unchecked. In the secular world view of today we find that people are calling for tolerance; but in essence this most often is focused on the acceptance of one’s sin or and bad behavior. Look at what we are being asked to tolerate: dishonesty, sexual perversion, abortion, alternative lifestyles, bad behavior, drug addiction, alcoholism and the list goes on.
Rather than tolerate sin we are called to root out sin. The writer of Hebrews reminds us in Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Paul in Colossians 3:5-15 also speaks to this. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Today we are being called to accept everyone regardless of their outward appearance and the facade that they present. How about you? Are you showing favoritism? Are you exhibiting prejudicial actions?