James – On Favouritism

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Series: The Book of James

Sunday 28th February 2016 – Justus Swart

James 1:20; James 2:1-19, 26; Luke 18:18-25, 35-43; (1 Cor. 9:19, 22)

As we come into the Christian faith we are birthed from the word of truth. We draw our example for living from this book, drawing all our ways of life from this book. Our lifestyles need to be corrected as we come into this faith. We are birthed through the word of truth and thus need to show a practical demonstration of that life change. We cannot change by receiving information; we have to respond by actually changing the way we do things by what we have heard from the word of truth. In the book of James, lesser and smaller issues are put under a microscope. We are challenged not to ignore the issues, but to take active steps addressing them and addressing our behaviour to ourselves, towards God and all the people around us.

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism … (James 2:1-12). This is not a popular topic. Favouritism is the practice of unfairly giving to one group at the expense of another, or a bias-based preferential treatment of one group over another. This can be anything from giving in the form of goods or services or general treatment, care or even justice. This is also known as partiality. This happens more often than we think and it happens in subtle ways. “Do not judge a book by its cover” is an old saying, but what James is actually saying goes much deeper. It is not just reserving judgement about another party or group but he goes as far as how we physically treat people. James does not shy away from saying there is both the rich and the poor in the Church of Jesus Christ. We have these groups in our church and in our society. He blatantly challenges them both. In the modern Church we like to pretend that the economic divide does not exist and that what goes on in our pockets does not really matter. We think that what we have in our bank accounts does not have a big impact on us spiritually. We feel by ignoring it we have somehow overcome it. We think that the biggest challenge in finances and economic divide is simply ignoring it and pretending that it does not exist. That is not true. James challenges us to see the true value in people the way Jesus saw the true value in you when He first called you. He is reminding us that in the eyes of Jesus your bank balance means absolutely nothing when it comes to receiving anything from God. Jesus did not redeem you based on the good things you have accomplished in your career. He called you because you were created and you were loved before the foundation of the world.

The rich ruler asked Jesus, “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him by saying he should keep the commandments. He replied boastfully saying he had kept them since he was a boy  but Jesus saw right through him, the man was holding on to something he was not willing to let go of. Jesus told the rich man to do the unthinkable, not sell half your possessions, not a third or even a tenth, but to give all to the poor. The rich man became sad when he heard this. He left with sadness in his heart because his wealth and everything he had affected him spiritually. He was not willing to disengage from that wealth and accept the call of Jesus which calls you to be on the same level as every other person (Luke 18:18).

In James 2 he shows the reverse: Do you expect favouritism because of your wealth? Do you expect special treatment because of all you have? Do we pride ourselves in material things of this world and think that others should also treat us better because of what we have? Jesus ignored all that the man had and addressed his heart condition. In doing so he had to deny all he had and he was not willing to do that.

A little later, Jesus acknowledges a blind beggar. Jesus did not ignore the beggar because he had nothing, even though he was considered the lowest of society. In fact He gave this man what wealth could not buy him. He received salvation and he received his sight. Jesus showed no preferential treatment to these two men though they were in two very different economic brackets. To the rich He brought the word of truth when no one else was willing to, and to the poor He extended a loving hand when no one else was willing to. Jesus’ interactions with people were as important as anything He ever said. The way He treated people was as important as all His teachings. Jesus immediately closed the gap between these two men; He brought them right into the same family by inviting them to join His family as brothers. The poor, blind beggar is now the brother of the richest man in the kingdom (Luke 18:35-43).

We not only show discrimination and favouritism according to financial status, but also through racially based favouritism. Saying you are colour-blind does not take the problem away. Instead of turning the world into a black and white photograph, let us rather submit ourselves to the highest authority over all of creation, Jesus Christ. He is the one who paid the price for each and every single person. The only way in which we can truly eliminate favouritism in all its forms is by coming into that family. Because in the Church all things are brought under the authority and rulership of Jesus Christ. There is no favouritism in the kingdom and therefore, there cannot be any in the Church. We have to expel that kind of behaviour. The Church has a major role to play in displaying to the world what true order should look like. The reason why the Church is the very centre of God’s mission to the world is because as the church we are capable of loving across any and all divides. No organisation in the world can do that. As the Church, as the living body of Jesus Christ, we can love across economic, social, racial or any divide. As the Church we are able to love every group in society; the downcast, the rejected, the undesirable, the rich and the poor, the lonely and the powerful. That is actually where all our authority lies.

As the Church our authority does not lie in having economic, political or even military power. As the Church our authority lies in loving absolutely anyone no matter what. That is the greatest authority there can be. As the Church we are not restricted to any one person’s opinion. We are unfettered by political commitment; we are not a nationalistic society that pledges to serve our president and country over our God. Because of that our love can overcome any divide that comes into our path. That causes us to become all things to all men (1 Cor. 9:22). Any church that cannot challenge political ideologies can no longer be the Church of Jesus Christ. Because of tolerance and political correctness we are relegated to saying silly things like “Jesus Christ is Lord, but that is just my opinion”. This is a total oxymoron. The nature of Jesus’ Lordship is not based on your or anyone’s opinion. Nor is it only relevant to those who think it is true. The fact of Jesus’ Lordship is a strong political statement that should shake every house of parliament across the entire world. That is why Jesus was crucified; He was the biggest threat to any political society. If what Jesus is saying about Himself is true no government could ever control or subdue Him. It would supersede every man-made foreign policy. It would invalidate every single divide thought up by man. Any man-made reason for division is made redundant by the very presence of Jesus.

What good is it, my brothers if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you say to him, Go I wish you well keep warm and well fed, Go I wish you well, keep warm and well-fed, but does nothing about his physical needs what good is it? In the same way faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, you have faith I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder (James 2:14-19). Favouritism should be completely expelled because in our life there is no sight of it. It should be incredibly difficult for a racist person to sit through a service at your church. Favouritism should not only be eliminated only by talking about how wrong it is, but by the way we treat each other. It is no good saying that you believe in one God and continue to live your life as you please.

When people come here and see how we treat each other their very lives and their practises should come into question; “Why do I live my life like this, look at these people”. Right here on earth we live out and practise what we are going to live out in eternity. That is what the kingdom of God is, learning to live out our faith; learning to live in a way which demonstrates a God who is honourable and merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement! (James 2:13) As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26). Embrace this and eliminate favouritism. Embrace one another because God first loved us.