September 21, 2015

September 20, 2015 - James 2:1-5

Theme: There is No Favoritism in Faith
1) In the church among you
2) In the church within you

James 2:1-5 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?

A young Christian man was trying to speak up about his faith and share it with others. He was told that he was discriminating against others because he wouldn’t go along with what the popular majority said. He was called judgmental and offensive, told that he was playing favorites; told that those were two things that God, and specifically Jesus, didn’t like. The cries of opposition kept coming stronger and louder. Voices telling him that he wasn’t really a Christian and the Bible tells us not to judge others. Finally, the young man replied and said, “I’m sorry, but if I work too hard at not offending you, I will offend God.” 

We hear these same voices day after day. The accusations of discrimination, favoritism, and judgment are often leveled against Christians who stand humbly on the Word of God. Those who try so adamantly to define our faith for us, and how well we’re following it, are often the ones who know next to nothing about what the Bible really teaches. In truth, the Bible does tell Christians to judge sin, both for themselves and for others. That’s what repentance is, it’s a reminder of judgment. A word like “discrimination” is used to color how we think of proper Christian judgment, as if we’re denying someone’s God-given rights, as if it’s the same as being racist, jealous, or hateful.

Why do these voices bother us so much? Why do they have such an effect on our lives and on the strength of our faith? Don’t act like they don’t. I know how it feels to be ridiculed for what you believe. I watch the same television and scroll down the same pages of internet you do and hear the voices and what they say about the Bible. How they lessen it as if it is some cheap hoax. How they claim superior knowledge while the rest of us are mindless slaves. How they champion the deep desires in my sinful heart and show me a path where these evil things somehow become acceptable.

The voices against our faith are loud, they’re abundant, and they’re influential. Sometimes they come from our closest friends or relatives. Sometimes we see sin in those we trust the most and we learn from them. If mom or dad, uncle or aunt, brother or sister do what I thought was condemned by God it must really not be that bad. Perhaps we just need to loosen the moral reigns of our faith a bit and stop being such uptight Christians. Times are changing, we need to adapt. And the voices like those go on and on, and their effect becomes greater and greater.  

It may not seem like it but the words of our text address those many voices we hear. The Spirit’s point in this chapter is that the Christian faith is not a beauty or popularity contest. Looking good on the outside has no bearing at all on one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s the kind of favoritism that God condemns. He doesn’t want us to discriminate when it comes to faith. No matter who you are, the blessing of faith applies to all equally. We don’t have the right to withhold the gift of faith or make others feel as if they’re inadequate to receive it. We are not to build ourselves up against others as if we’re somehow greater or more significant to God. That’s the evil type of judgment. That’s true discrimination. Speaking about sin or defending the truth against error is not the same as denying one access to faith because of appearance.

A call to repentance is not discrimination. Because without repentance, faith dies. So you tell me, who are we favoring when we ignore or become ashamed of Godly repentance? What becomes of our faith when the voices of the world convince us that we don’t need God’s Word or that following it is an evil thing? Like the young man said, there comes a point when if we worry so much about not offending the world, we will offend God. Who do you care about more? The danger of showing favoritism in our faith is indeed a reality and that’s why God chose to address it here. But it’s not the unbelieving world who gets to define what that favoritism is and what it isn’t. God’s has already taken care of that in His Word.  

Part 1

The most obvious place where improper favoritism can exist is in our congregation. This is the example given to us by the Spirit in these words. He brings us the literal example of a synagogue service, which was the Jewish equivalent of our regular Sunday worship. When it comes to expressing our faith in a congregation, there are no varying degrees between Christians of greater wealth and Christians who are poor. There’s always a temptation for us to favor those with greater influence or wealth because we can often gain more in material terms from them.

But God singles this situation out as a warning against following this sinful desire. Faith in Christ is not to be used as a bargaining chip to gain whatever we want, even if it’s done in the name of a Christian congregation. The most obvious reason why is because faith is a free gift from God. None of us had to do anything to earn God’s forgiveness. How dare we make others feel differently? Paul tells of this freedom in Galatians 3:26-27 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Another reason against showing favoritism is that all members of Christ’s Church have value. Paul wrote the Corinthians (1 Cor. 12) and explained that although the Spirit gives different gifts to different people, they are all given from the same Spirit and have the same purpose. Giving people the impression, or saying as much directly, that some people are more valuable than others, or more important, is discrediting the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul stated that it’s like the body saying that because it has ears that can hear, it has no need for eyes that see, or feet that walk. In reality, all parts of the body are important to the overall function of the body. The same is absolutely true in Christ’s body, the Church.

The best way to avoid favoritism in a church is to emphasize Christ’s saving work of redemption. Instead of getting caught up in comparing ourselves with others, or focusing so much on one person’s gifts over another’s, we can zero in on Christ’s grace. When Christ’s grace takes hold of a person’s heart by faith, all the little details about who they are fade away. Paul went on to tell the Galatians that it doesn’t matter if someone is Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female when faith in Christ is present. Because God holds up His promise given long before the ailments of favoritism came upon our culture. This promise was that His only begotten Son would be the Savior of the entire world; that people from all nations and cultures would come to the cross and find eternal salvation and God delivered this through Jesus Christ. 

Part 2

It’s obvious that there should be no favoritism of faith in the church among us. But there’s another church that we don’t always think of, and very often favoritism can affect it even more. This is the church in your heart. God calls this church His dwelling place and it’s much more important than where we choose to sit on Sunday mornings. This is the church that Jesus talked about when He preached that the “kingdom of God is at hand and that kingdom is within you (Luke 17:21).”

Before we even begin to learn about the congregation that shares our confession of God’s Word the Holy Spirit is busy establishing God’s sanctuary in our hearts. Faith begins in the heart and wherever faith is present is a home for God. Paul explained this to the Corinthians to show them the serious nature of the sins they were caught in. He wrote to them, “Don't you yourselves know that you are God's sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).”

Those with faith in Christ are a church in and of themselves. Faith grants you direct access to God at all times. You need not approach Him in temples and sanctuaries made with human hands. Therefore, as much as you would want to keep this congregation and church building from sin, you should desire it even more for your own heart. Don’t follow the Corinthian’s spiritual blind spot. Recognize your status as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Appreciate your right to be called a child of God and a member of His kingdom today. Because faith in Jesus and from Jesus is in your heart.

Just as much as you should avoid favoritism in the church among you, you should avoid it in the church within you. This kind of favoritism is harder to recognize, though. When it comes to your heart, who comes in and gets the choice seating? As we mentioned earlier, which voices are the ones you heed the most? It’s easy for us to judge the worthiness of what we hear based on who says it and what status they have in the world. It’s no secret that the wealthy and famous are often the most influential in the world. People will flock to listen to celebrities, athletes, or political figures as if they know something we don’t.

But isn’t this also what James is condemning here? Don’t assign value to what a person says just because they are popular or rich. This is extremely important when it comes to the church in your heart. Who gets to preach there every day? Who is allowed to enter the pulpit of your inner being and dispense spiritual knowledge? All too often we allow the high profile voices, the ones that society tells us to listen to, to speak the most to us. But sadly, these are often the voices that reject what God tells us in His Word. We judge the truth of something based solely on how many people believe it and how likeable the person is who says it. We exalt the rich and powerful of the world and give them the best seats in our house. We welcome the twitter feed from celebrities as if it’s pure Gospel and we share in the crude jokes of the ungodly with great regularity and eagerness, beckoning them back again and again to worship in what is really supposed to God’s dwelling.  

Do you see how this favoritism can be a huge problem? If you come to church regularly every Sunday and hear God’s Word that’s a wonderful and beautiful thing. But if every other day of the week you feed yourself spiritual lies in the inner sanctuary of your heart, you will be fighting a losing battle. Sitting at the feet of the modern day moralists and many spiritual leaders in the world can easily destroy the filter that God provides us in His Word. Before you realize what’s happened, you end up looking down on Christ with the disdain as someone unwanted and common. His life-saving message becomes too poor because so many are calling it discriminating, unfair, and judgmental; and we’re listening to them instead of listening to our Savior.  Cast favoritism out of your heart, with as much authority as you would cast it out of this congregation.   

What unfaithful people we are; always running after what seems newer and exciting and popular. So much more willing to listen to the rich and the famous than the poor and the lowly. So willing to make time for our favorite celebrities and to hang on their every word, than to defend the way we learned of salvation. But there’s a reason that Christ prevails against all others. There’s a reason why He alone deserves our complete devotion and favor. There’s a reason that we ought to discard all treasures that detract from Him. That reason is this: For as many times as we forsake Him, for as many times as we block Him out or kick and scream against His will; He is there every time to forgive us.

He is there at all times with His gentle hand of grace, resting it upon our weary heads and comforting us as a father comforts His child. He is faithful in our place, in every moment we are rebellious. He daily encourages us to return to His Word, to tear down the idols in our hearts that have supplanted His throne. And what’s most amazing of all, is that through the still, small voice of His Word, He can block out all of the voices of the world. For all those voices who tell us that we’re unloved, that’s there’s no purpose out there, that Jesus doesn’t care or doesn’t even exist. For all those voices that shout day after day about our mistakes and sins, that want to keep us focused on the problems and pain. For all the voices that beckon us to follow every path but God’s, who almost convince us His gospel is too good to be true. For all those voices, Jesus says to you, “Be still, and know that I am God.” And just like that, everything is quiet, the voices, loud as they are, fade away. And we rest in the peace of our Savior. Amen.

May that peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

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