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Showing favoritism

Jesus' best friend, John, is called “the one whom Jesus loved” no less than five times in the Bible (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20).  I hope that each of you have friends, but I hope you all have “best friends” as well.  The Bible celebrates friendship—it’s good to be closer to some than you are to others, of course. David and Jonathan,  Ruth and Naomi, Paul and Silas….that’s how He made us.  But consider these verses for a moment:

“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 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. 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,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

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? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”  you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.”  If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”   (James 2:1-13, NIV)

If we are going to be the church that Christ redeemed us to be, we’re going to have  to welcome all people, regardless of race, ethnicity and—-more to the point with James—regardless of their poverty or low status in our county.  In a word, we can’t show favoritism. The word for favoritism that James uses here means “to lift up the face”. In this context it means to make judgments and distinctions based on external considerations, such as physical appearance, social status or race.  It does not mean that we don’t have best friends, buddies that we prefer over other associates, etc.  Jesus was closest to Peter, James and John.  His “best friend” was either Peter, when it came to leadership, or “John”, when it came to one after His own heart.   God chooses people for special things, but He has no preference for skin color, gender, nationality, or outward appearance.

But the point James is making is that we should not treat rich people better than folks that are not rich.  James was afraid that folks within the church would become snobs and cower and kiss the feet of the rich folks and have a lower respect for the common folks.  Just like the early churches of our nation, the early church of the first century consisted almost entirely of poor people, and when a wealthy person was wanted to join their fellowship,  they tended to be feted with a lot more attention and honor than a poor person joining.  Things have not changed much in the minds of men.

Again, are we going to have favorite people in our lives? Yes, and of course. We call those favorite people our best friends, or our partner in our marriage!  But the favoritism James condemns, once again, had to do with showing more respect to one class of people than others. There are at least four reasons we cannot do this as a church:

1. First, because Jesus said, “blessed are the poor”.   Don’t treat folks bad because of their poverty—-God is especially fond of  them!   The Bible says that Jesus was anointed to preach good news to the poor. (Luke 4:18) In truth, He did not show favoritism to the rich or the poor. He broke all the barriers that existed by ministering to, eating with, and associating with the poor, the rich, the healthy, the sick, with children, the teenagers, women, the righteous and the obvious sinners, with those that ruled and with those that were considered outcasts. That’s what the Kingdom of God looks like and WILL look like. Snobs will be very disappointed in heaven.

Today, I have no doubt that Jesus would eat with Republicans and Democrats, that He would talk to  those that were gay, lesbian, transgender, Woke and “Unwoke”.   But would we… we?

William Barclay once said,,  It is not that Christ and the Church do not want the great and the rich and the wise and the mighty;  we must beware of an inverted snobbery… But it was the simple fact that the gospel offered so much to the poor and demanded so much from the rich, that it was the poor who were swept into the Church. It was, in fact, the common people who heard Jesus gladly and the rich young ruler who went sorrowfully away because he had great possessions.”  Yes, Jesus focused much of his ministry on the poor. But we also need to remember that when Jesus looked at the rich young ruler, he loved him.”    (Will Vaus)

2. The second reason James gives for not showing favoritism to the rich might sound a bit “unchristian”,  but he maintains that it is the rich that give us the most trouble!  But it should  not to construed to mean: “well, since they’re mean to us, we don’t have be nice to them.”   But James point is this: “Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?”   When James wrote this, the wealthy had the power to throw the poor into jail if a debt was outstanding. They truly oppressed  the common man and could make his life miserable.  Nonetheless, we’re never told to treat rich folks bad, but instead James tries to sober the folks to the fact that wealth and power is NOT a reason to show special respect or recognition;  in fact, it’s wise to be careful around those that have great wealth.  Rich folks often use people and love things, and we should not reward such a backward way of living. The man or woman of God should use things and love people.

One reason Jesus called the poor blessed, is that “things come to the poor that can’t get in at the door of the rich. Their money somehow blocks it up. It is a great privilege to be poor – one that no man covets, and but a very few have sought to retain, but one that yet many have learned to prize.” — George MacDonald

What James said then is still true today.  Any man, of any status, can be rude, and I’ve been treated pretty rough by some beggars in the subways of Paris and London, but it’s the rich that look down upon us and are so often unkind to the common man, so the last thing we should do is reward or honor such behavior.

3. The third reason that James gives for not favoring the rich is because it is opposed to  God requires. Moses recorded in Leviticus that, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And then in Deuteronomy, “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awe-inspiring God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe”.  To show preference to the rich over the poor, or one race over another, is contrary to God’s law.

Now maybe we have a reason to be unkind to the poor, or the person of another race, based upon something done wrong to us a long time ago.  But God’ says this:  “ 'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”  It’s your choice, but God does hold us accountable for the commands we ignore.

Later, Solomon warns us  that to oppress those who are poor and in need is a serious offense, not only sinning against them, but sinning against God. And because all humans are made in the image of God, if we fail to treat vulnerable brothers and sisters with compassion and justice, it is offensive to God.  Think about that the next time you walk past a beggar or see one of these folks begging for food at a busy traffic light.

And to be quite clear, James is not saying that we should not welcome the wealthy to our church. We should welcome the wealthiest in our towns, but we should do it out of love for their eternal souls, not because they are wealthy.  We should honor them, but not because of their bank accounts, but because God loves them—-the wealthy will be the the last and most unsure to receive salvation.

4. The fourth and scariest reason James gives for not showing partiality is that we will be judged according to what we have done or not done in love . As Christians, we have a new law at work upon our hearts and if we know Him we should feel that compulsion of love.

Paul once that we must all, preachers, deacons, teachers and other people alike, “will appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”  (We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ… —2 Corinthians 5:10). “But if you will learn here and now to live under the scrutiny of Christ’s pure light, your final judgment will bring you only delight in seeing the work God has done in you. Live constantly reminding yourself of the judgment seat of Christ, and walk in the knowledge of the holiness He has given you.”  (Chambers)

Putting up with a spiteful or judgmental attitude toward another person causes you to follow the spirit of the devil, no matter how saintly you think  you are.  DON’T LET IT HAPPEN!  Bring that hidden disgust you have for someone else immediately into the light and confess, “Oh, Lord, I have no excuse! Have mercy on me!” If you don’t, your heart will become hardened through and through..

I hate to say it, but many of us, think “walking in the light” means walking according to the standard we have set up for another person. The deadliest attitude of the Pharisees that we exhibit today is not hypocrisy but that which comes from the conceited idea that Jesus was not talking to us when He told people how they ought to be living.  He meant me when He said, “unless you forgive from your heart, neither will my Father forgive you”….He meant me, when He said, “Mercy will be given to you if you are merciful”….He meant me, when He said, “Judge not or you will be judged”.

I would conclude by saying that it’s not wrong to treat special, it’s just that the Christian must treat all people special, and not assume that some don’t deserve special love. “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating.  By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled as we are. But in the love of Christ we know all about every conceivable sin and guilt; for we know how Jesus suffered, and how all men have been forgiven at the foot of the cross. Christian love sees the fellow-man under the cross and therefore sees with clarity. If when we judged others, our real motive was to destroy evil, we should look for evil where it is certain to be found, and that is in our own hearts.  But if we are on the lookout for evil in others, our real motive is obviously to justify ourselves, for we are seeking to escape punishment for our own sins by passing judgment on others, and are assuming by implication that the Word of God applies to ourselves in one way, and to others in another.”   Bonhoeffer

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