For the last couple of weeks we have been looking at the subject of "Body Life" - how we as Christians are to live in community with other believers.
In our first study we looked at 1 Corinthians 12 and the illustration that Paul gave of the Church as the Body of Christ. We saw that all believers are part of Christ, we are His body. We constitute the means by which Christ functions within the world. Christ is no longer in his earthly body; therefore, if he wants a task done within the world he has to find a man to do it. We, Christians, are literally the body of Christ; hands to do his work, feet to run his errands, a voice to speak for him.
We saw that every member, no matter what its function, is a vital part of the body. There are no insignificant members in the body of Christ. Paul teaches that just as each part in the body has its own specific function, so every Christian should realize that he is needed to take his place and make his contribution to the body of Christ.
In our last study we asked this question, "If we are all members of Christ's body, and if there are no insignificant members in the body, and if everyone of us is necessary for the body to function properly, why is it that so many members do nothing?" In a word, what is it that keeps us from serving the Lord as a vital part of the body? Do you remember what we said that word was? Selfishness! We are all so caught up in our own problems and concerns that we don't care for others like we should. As Christians, our responsibility is to get outside of ourselves and to minister to the body of Christ. We are all called to be selfless!
We looked last time at the selfless example of three men; Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus. The people who make a difference in the world are those who are willing to pay the price. And in Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus, we meet men who were willing to pay the price. Are you willing to pay the price? What does your Christianity cost you? How much do you sacrifice for Christ?
So, we have seen that we are all significant members of Christ's body, all needed to make the body function to its fullest potential. Then we saw that the attitude of selfishness greatly hinders our service to the body and thus hinders the bodies effectiveness.
This morning I want to look at an attitude that must be rooted out of our lives if we are going to function effectively as Christ's body. It is an attitude that will quickly destroy "Body Life", and that is the attitude of prejudice. Before we go any further, let me ask you this, "How many of you would be willing to say that you struggle with the sin of prejudice?" This is an area of our lives that very few of us even want to acknowledge, let alone deal with. This morning we are going to look at what Jesus says about how we treat people, about our prejudices, and our biases - about playing favorites:
James 2:1-4 (NKJV) My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. 2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," 4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
Do you want to know an unsavory little secret about just about everybody in this room? Almost all of us in this place walk around with an unpublished list in our minds of certain kinds of people we tend to like and certain kinds of people we could just do without - a list of desirables and undesirables. Now we don't generally talk openly about this kind of stuff. But if we are honest, we'd have to admit that it's true.
Some of us, if we were truthful, would have to admit to having the same kind of problem that James was addressing in the church that he was writing to. We have a preference of being around rich people instead of poor. In fact, it's probably even a little deeper than that. Some of us are sort of annoyed by the poor, and we feel a little superior to them and more deserving, and we try to insulate ourselves from them as much as possible. Now understand that rich and poor are relative terms; we're all rich to somebody, and we're all poor to somebody.
Now you might be thinking, "This message doesn't apply to me, I don't cater to the rich or look down on the poor." Oh really? Well maybe you prefer to be with educated people, and you look down your nose at those who haven't gone very far in academic pursuits. Or maybe you would rather spend time with younger people, and you look down on or even get irritated with people who are getting on in years, or vice versa.
What happens when we inject politics in the discussion? I mean, we broad stroke a whole group of people, don't we? "Ah those Democrats, those liberals...." and off we go. It's amazing the things we say about whole groups of people!
Then you get into racial and ethnic groups. Some of us have feelings we wouldn't want made public about where our preferences lie when it comes to race or ethnicity.
And then some of us, who call ourselves Christian, don't even try to hide our disdain or even hatred for people who have fouled up morally - who are engaged in sinful lifestyles, or who have made questionable moral choices. We don't even want to get near them for fear that we might be seen as condoning their choices.
Don't kid yourself about this. James says, "You have your favorite kinds of people, and I have mine." But instead of acknowledging these preferences as human and quite acceptable, James says:
James 2:9 (NKJV) but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
James is saying that prejudice, being a respecter of persons, is SIN! James doesn't try to beat around the bush, he says, "If you show partiality, you commit sin." This attitude destroys community. It hinders the functioning of the body of Christ. It destroys people, and it is a violation of God's Law. This stuff must be exposed. It has to be confessed and repented of. This is the stuff that causes fights, shootings and bombings in schools, in neighborhoods, and full-scale war on the international front. This is serious business.
And that's why we are going to face this topic head on today. Because this kind of thing has to be rooted out of my life, and it has to be rooted out of your life, and today seems to be as good a day as any to begin the rooting process. So let's study our text:
James 2:1 (NKJV) My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.
To put it simply, James is saying, "Christianity and partiality don't belong together." Who is James telling this to? Christians! He say, "My brethren." Why is he telling Christians this? Because Christians deal with all the problems that non-Christians do. The only difference being that we have the power to overcome them if we live in dependence upon Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:12 (NKJV) Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned;
Adam ate of the forbidden fruit - he sinned. Sin is violating the commands of God. When Adam sinned - "sin entered the world." How did sin enter the world? Adam's sin wrought a constitutional change of unholiness within the heart of man. That act resulted in an innate corrupting principle, and he transmitted this to his decedents. All men became sinners as Paul said in:
Romans 3:23 (NKJV) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Christians understand that because of their sin, they deserve eternal death - separation from God for eternity in the lake of fire:
Romans 6:23 (NKJV) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Revelation 20:15 (NKJV) And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
They also understand and believe that Christ died for their sin, he paid their sin debt in full by his sacrificial death:
Romans 5:8 (NKJV) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
They look to Christ, and Christ alone, for their salvation:
Romans 4:5 (NKJV) But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
The majority of church goers do not understand that our salvation is not based upon what we do but upon what Christ did. They think that their relationship with God is based upon their performance. They think that as long as they live "right", that God will not condemn them. This is a "works" system. To attempt to live the Christian life by works is to live under constant guilt and condemnation. Salvation is by grace:
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
So, James is writing to Christians, and he tells them that to be prejudice, to be a respecter of persons, is inconsistent with who they are. They are children of God by faith in Jesus Christ, and they should act like their Father.
One attribute of God that we don't hear much about is that He is Impartial. God is absolutely and totally impartial in dealing with people. I'm afraid it isn't so with us, we are very partial. We have a virtual cast system that is based on popularity, looks, race, social status, and wealth. But all of these are non-issues with God. A person's education, economic status, looks, clothes, social status, job, fame, prestige, and earthly honor all mean nothing to God:
Deuteronomy 10:17-20 (NKJV) "For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18 "He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. 19 "Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20 "You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast, and take oaths in His name.
God tells us that His is impartial, and says that we are to also be impartial:
2 Chronicles 19:7 (NKJV) "Now therefore, let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes."
Because God is impartial, he calls His people to be impartial, and disciplines them when they are not:
Malachi 2:9 (NKJV) "Therefore I also have made you contemptible and base Before all the people, Because you have not kept My ways But have shown partiality in the law."
Because of Israel's partiality, God was disciplining them. The Scriptures repeatedly speak of God's impartiality:
1 Peter 1:15-17 (NKJV) but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy." 17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;
We tend to be very partial. We are impressed by people's cars, homes, clothes, jobs, degrees, and social standing. But none of these impress God, none of them. God judges simply and totally on the basis of our heart.
Romans 2:11 (NKJV) For there is no partiality with God.
This is a simple and direct truth! God does not play favorites, and therefore, neither should we!
James 2:1 (GWT) My brothers and sisters, practice your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ by not favoring one person over another.
I mean, how much clearer can he be on this one? James was writing to a group of people who had been playing favorites in the church based on economic status. Church leaders were bending over backward to show preferential treatment to the wealthy, while the poor were getting ignored and being treated as second class citizens. And James says as clearly as he can - "This has GOT TO STOP! This has no place in the church. You can't go on treating some people as if they matter more, and others as if they matter less based on their socio-economic status or any other criteria. It's got to stop!
Why is this partiality thing such a big deal to James? It is a big deal because to show partiality violates the foundational law of the church which is "to love your neighbor as yourself!":
James 2:8-9 (NKJV) If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
James goes on in the chapter to say that if our faith doesn't work, it is dead:
James 2:26 (NKJV) For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
What is the "work" of faith? It is love:
Galatians 5:6 (NKJV) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.
The work of faith is love, and if we fail to love by showing partiality, we sin. And if we continue in sin, our faith will die. Dead faith is a loss of practical fellowship with God.
James is saying if we show partiality, we run the risk of damaging our relationship with God. Why does he take this so seriously? Because people matter to God. That's why when Jesus was asked, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?"He said:
Matthew 22:37-40 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 "This is the first and great commandment. 39 "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
The whole law is summed up in these two commands; love God, love your neighbor as yourself. When you show favoritism, you violate the greatest commandment, and you hinder the effectiveness of the Body of Christ.
Regardless of their race, gender, ethnic background, socio-economic status, education, political affiliation, religious views, physical appearance, or moral condition; people matter infinitely to the Father, and therefore, they should matter to us.
I don't know if we fully understand how God really feels about this stuff. When we diminish someone, or demean them because of how they look, or what they possess, or even how they choose to live, when we who take his name treat another human being as if they don't matter as much - especially when it happens in the church - it is a violation of the greatest command - the law of love.
When we trash or diminish one of God's children, it is a very big deal. God carefully and lovingly fashioned and formed them in their mother's womb. He put his signature on them. They all matter to him, they really do! And they should matter to us.
That's why James is so adamant when he says that favoritism, bias, prejudice or discrimination, or whatever you want to call it, simply has no place among the followers of Jesus.
The waiter or waitress who delivers your food, the wealthy person down the street, the person struggling to make ends meet, the teenager who dresses differently, every single parent, every child, every elderly person, a person with a different skin color, a gay or lesbian, a divorced person, an illegal immigrant, every politician or person who votes the opposite way I vote, every person who holds a different religious belief, anyone who has failed morally - God wants us to treat them ALL with love and respect.
How can we ever win them to Christ if we treat them like they're trash? All people are deserving of my respect. They are deserving of my honor, and they are deserving of my love.
So, how are you doing on this one, friends? That's not just an idle question, I really want us to think about it! Do you play favorites? Are there some people in your life that you value and some people you could just do without? Let me ask you again, "How many of you would be willing to say that you struggle with the sin of prejudice?" We really have to face this!
As I thought about this, I discovered a bunch of areas where I tend to play favorites, where I tend to assign value to people based purely on external characteristics or personal bias.
I would notice that if I went into a 7 -11 store and if the person behind the counter didn't speak English very well, it affected how I thought about them. Should we not love people who have accents? Sure we should.
I also noticed that I am very impatient with "stupid" people. How about you, are you prejudice against stupid people? Too often I want to ask people, "Where's your sign?" (The sign that says, "I'm stupid"). What makes stupid people so stupid? Do you know? I can tell you the answer - it's our PRIDE! Pride is an expanded view of self. The proud person is one who thinks he's better than others.
Okay, now what? If we have discovered that favoritism is alive in us, the question now becomes: What do we do about it? How can we change?
I mean, for some of us this has become a lifelong habit. People who study this kind of stuff say that once the poison of partiality gets into your system, there's almost no human way to get it out. In fact, it tends to get a little worse throughout the course of your life. It's going to take something supernatural to root favoritism out of each of us.
The only way that we will overcome our tendency to play favorites is to realize that it is a sin, confess it to God and pray for His strength to overcome it.
Let me give you some practical steps to overcoming partiality.
1. Pray - As you go through your day, ask God to make you aware of the subtle, and maybe not so subtle, ways that you devalue people. Ask God to open your eyes to see people the way he does. We need to pray, "Help me see them as you see them. Change my heart. Change my behavior towards them."
2. Pay attention to what God reveals to you. Pay attention to the words you say, the jokes you tell, the people you tend to spend time with and why, the attitudes you carry around with you. Overcoming favoritism will require minds and hearts that are submitted to the leading of God and open to the changes he might want to make in us.
3. Make an effort to build relationships with people who are different than you. I have a tendency to show partiality to people who think differently than I do. I was always prejudice against PETA people (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). I thought they were nuts! Then, I became friends with a neighbor who I didn't know was a PETA person. When I found out, she was, I was a little amazed that I had become friends with a PETA nut. When you become friends with someone who holds a view or has a characteristic that you are prejudice toward, that prejudice tends to die.
4. Read through the Gospels; as you study Jesus' life and ministry, you will begin to grasp his love for people. It's love of another kind. Throughout his ministry, Jesus would extend love to people that the religious leaders and the culture of that day had marginalized - physically challenged people, lepers, women, children, tax collectors, prostitutes, and other "sinners".
Let me finish with one story of an encounter that Jesus had with a guy who had been literally left to die on a garbage heap. It takes place in the final hours of Jesus' life. Jesus was hanging on a cross between two thieves. There was no greater way in which people of the first century could express their utter disgust with a human being than by crucifying them. It was the chief, the most extreme, form of human degradation that existed. One of the thieves who was being crucified that day realized he was about ready to breathe his last breath, so he reviewed his life. He was just sick about how he had lived his life, but it was too late. What's he going to do now? He can't clean up his act. He can't decide to fly straight. He can't join a church, he can't be baptized, can't offer God anything but a heart full of remorse. All of a sudden, a fantastic thought sweeps into his mind just for a fleeting moment. He wonders to himself, "What if the love of God were so high, so deep, so wide, and so all-encompassing that it could wrap its arms around a foul-up like me? What if someone like me, after all I've done, still matters to God?"
So he turns to Jesus with just that mustard-seed-sized faith, and he says:
Luke 23:42 (NKJV) Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."
Jesus responds to the man by saying, "Today, you'll be with me in paradise."Can I paraphrase? "In spite of all you've done, you still matter to me. You've mattered to me from eternity past. You mattered to me when you were headed the wrong way in your life. You mattered to me when you got arrested, and the day you were condemned to die. There was never a moment when you stopped mattering to me. And on the basis of your faith, I can say to you, 'You're forgiven.'"
Friends, that's love! And it should motivate me and you to be the first person to celebrate diversity, the first person to reach our hand out to those we would once diminish. If people matter to God, they should matter to us.
As we choose to extend Christ's amazing love to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, financial status, gender or age, or whatever - we will stand out as a beacon of hope, and men and women will be drawn to Jesus Christ.
|Continue the Series|