Dean Michael seemed to be a precious, happy and healthy 18 month old. Yet when he tried to walk he seemed to experience a great deal of pain. He often limped and cried out when he tried to totter across the floor. Other times the pain upon his little face was overwhelming his parents would relent and carry him. A neighbor asked the parents why they didn’t take him to a doctor. They told their neighbor they didn’t believe in doctors and modern medicine. They had faith in God and they would just wait for God to cure little Dean. And so Dean’s parents did nothing and six months later little Dean Michael died from a curable childhood illness.
A two year old little girl choked a piece of banana and died an hour later while her parents frantically gathered church members around her in a circle to pray – relying on their faith in God to save her instead of calling 911 or trying to extract the banana themselves. Tragic tales of useless faith, faith that is without works. We cringe wondering how anyone of faith could do that? How could they sit idly by and do nothing? People of faith don’t do that? Yet, even more tragic than these stories are the countless other stories of individuals and churches who claim to have faith and then sit idly by doing nothing, churches who make no effort to reach out to the lost, who never help their neighbors, who refuse to get involved in their communities, who refuse to support program and ministries to their own congregation, who are more concerned about their building then about God’s people. Yes, physical death is tragic and painful; but, spiritual death because of useless dead faith is even more appalling, disturbing and disastrous.
Hebrews 11:1 says “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is believing in the invisible Holy God. It is believing that he is Lord God Almighty without proof or tangible evidence, without being able to verify God’s existence by our own human facilities or senses. It is knowledge of God through faith that comes as a gift from God. In Ephesians 2:8,9, Paul says that a saving faith comes from accepting God’s grace, not by your works and yet, James 2:24 says, that a person is saved by works of faith.
James and Paul are not in disagreement. The Bible is not contradicting itself. Paul when he speaks of being saved by faith and not works, is speaking about the works of the law. Jewish law claimed salvation was the results of sacrifice and obedience to a strict set of man made guidelines. Paul is saying you can’t keep every little detail of the law and be saved because you did. He is saying works of the law cannot bring you faith. By your own efforts you can not possibly achieve salvation; but, that it is your belief in the invisible God that brings salvation as a gift of God. James on the other hand is speaking of works that follow after faith. He is speaking of a faith that is dynamically expressed in works, faith that is an active response to God’s love, faith more accurately described as a verb, an action, a distinct way of acting, rather than a state of mind.
Billy Graham says that there is not a conflict between faith and works. In the Christian life they go together like inhaling and exhaling. Faith is taking the Gospel in; works is taking the Gospel out. James is saying you can’t have faith without works, specifically without keeping the royal law and that law is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He equates your works, your faith, with how you treat other people.
It is fascinating to me that we have problems understand this since Jesus himself says this is one of the ways we will be judged on the Day of Judgment. Matt 25:31-40, at judgment they will stand before the Lord and he will say, I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and in prison and you visited me. We will say, When Lord, when did we do that? When were you sick and we visited you? When were you in prison and when were you thirsty and we gave you drink? Jesus said “Inasmuch as you have done for the least of these you have done for me.
What a Christian does, how a Christian acts toward his or her neighbor matters and so, James offers us a warning in Chapter 2 to keep those actions pure, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism” in your works. Favoritism is a kissin’ cousin to prejudice. It is reveals our self centered pride. God opposes the proud. 1 Peter 5:5 says “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” When you think you are better than someone else, God opposes you. When you think you are more worthy and needy of people’s attention than someone else, God oppose you. When you think that what you say should carry more weight than what someone else says, God opposes you. When you think that you are better than others because you are intelligent, good looking or athletic, God opposes you. When you lack humility in faith, God opposes you. When you choose not to help someone because you don’t think they deserve it, God opposes you. When you refuse to give a dime to a begger because you think she is just going to go buy liquour with the money, God opposes you. (from sermon by Rodney Buchanan found on Sermon Central.)
James is saying don’t be a snob in your works, don’t look down on people, don’t insult people with your prejudice, don’t judge who is worthy of being your neighbor, worthy of being loved like you are loved. God’s love, Christian love, overlooks superficial distinctions as wealth, quality of clothing, personal hygiene and such. It shows kindness to a person in spite of any and all distasteful qualities he or she might have.
Jesus did not show favorites in his work. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, political extremists and socially disenfranchised, the poor and the lame, the scandalous woman at the well and the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. He said the last would be first, the poor would be blessed, only servants could be leaders, the simple were wise and those of low position would be lifted up to a place of honor. God doesn’t show favorites. Faith that works does not draw lines where God does not draw lines. It favors no one and accepts everyone.
Favoritism in your works of faith is the results of evil desires and thoughts. Favoritism is inconsistent with God’s teachings. It is an insult to people made in God’s image. It is a by product of our selfish motives. It is hypocritical and it shows a lack of mercy to those less fortunate and it often reveals our own weaknesses.
A man was having difficulty communicating with his wife and concluded that she was becoming hard of hearing. So he decided to conduct a test without her knowing about it. One evening he sat in a chair on the far side of the room. Her back was to him and she could not see him. Very quietly he whispered, “Can you hear me? There was no response. Moving a little closer, he asked again. “Can you hear me now?” Still no reply. Quietly he edged closer and whispered the same words, but still no answer. Finally he moved right in behind her chair and said, “Can you hear me now?” To his surprise and chagrin she responded with irritation in her voice. “For the fourth time, yes, I can hear you!”
What we are critical of in others may be a problem within ourselves. Most of us criticize others to cover upour own faults. James says don’t be so self righteous that you hold up the law and say, “Okay maybe I show a little favoritism, maybe I don’t like homeless people, but I didn’t commit murder. I didn’t commit adultery.” If you have broken any of God’s law you are just as guilty of sin as the murder. But thanks be to God, he forgives all sins. He has shown us great mercy and grace. And, it is now our privilege and responsibility to demonstrate that mercy to others by giving without judgment. James is saying speak and act in light of the fact that you have been shown mercy, forgiveness and loved by God.
If God presents you with an opportunity to aide someone or a group of people than you and I in mercy must surely respond. It is our duty to help, out of the love for God and our neighbor. Last, week I asked what do we do as Christian differently than a non Christian? Non-christians, non believers, they do good deeds. The difference is when we do deeds of “loving our neighbor” we bring God into the picture. We plant seeds of God’s will and love whether they believe in him, trust him or not.
Look for places were God would have you sow his seed of mercy. Look for opportunities to demonstrate your faith. They present themselves to you everyday. Maybe it’s in the person who just needs a kind word. Or maybe it is in buying clothes for some disadvantaged children to go to school in. Maybe it is in a little old lady who needs help with cleaning up her yard or washing her clothes. Or maybe it’s in the homeless person who needs a warm meal and a dry place to stay the night or the person who is begging for money.
Take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves before you. Love people even when it’s inconvenient. There is no “good time" for ministry. The opportunity to minister and love others is often just comes upon you. If you are going to live by the royal law of love, you need to be ready whenever God is ready to use you even if it means it is at a great expense to you. Love your neighbor with the works of your faith even when it will costs you something and I am not just talking about money. I am talking about, loving your neighbor even if it means you are going to be late to work or an appointment, even if it means it might cost you a sale.
Do good deeds even if it costs you your reputation, or means you miss your favorite TV show. Yes, even if it means occasionally you have to sacrifice time with your family. In every way, love costs something. If it doesn’t it isn’t love. Great love is very costly. If you doubt that, go back to the Gospels and check out the cross. It cost God a whole lot to love you and I. Love people with your works even if it is uncomfortable, unprofitable, and inconvenient.
And if the opportunities don’t seem to find you then go out and find them! Volunteer with the Faith in Action Companion/Transportation project or with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, or Literacy programs, or the shelter for battered women or with the soup kitchens, and clothing closet here in town. Find ways to love your neighbor as yourself. And when you do watch for some amazing changes because when God is involved your efforts will not fail. Sometimes the person whom you help is changed and sometimes, you are the one changed.
Some lawyers in an effort to win their case in court have been known to ask some incredibly unbelievable questions. The Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyer’s Journal gave this example of some questions from a real court case:
Question: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
Question: Did you check for blood pressure?
Question: Did you check for breathing?
Question: Then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
Question: How can you be sure doctor?
Answer: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
Question: But couldn’t the patient been alive nevertheless?
Answer: Yes, It is possible, I guess, that a patient without a brain could still have been alive and probably practicing law somewhere.
A body without the brain is dead; likewise faith without is works is dead. Dead faith does nothing, accomplishes nothing, saves no one. This morning I challenge you to make a commitment to demonstrate your faith without prejudice, without favoritism. I challenge you for the next 30 days to Love your neighbor as yourself unconditionally, no matter the cost, whenever the opportunity presents itself, I challenge you to find opportunities give because you have been so much. And during this time watch for the changes in other people and in yourself. Watch mercy and love triumph when together we live out our faith in works and deeds.
Amen and Amen
Love People Even When It’s Inconvenient
There is no "good" time for ministry. The opportunity to minister and love others is something that comes upon you. In the story, the Samaritan was on a business trip. It wasn’t pleasure - he was in the land of those that hated him, but found it convenient to do business with him.
The religious leaders had to be somewhere else - church meetings, whatever… The Samaritan had stuff to do too - he was just a bit more ready to love. If you’re going to live by the royal law of love, you need to be ready when God is!
Ø Love People Even When It’s Unprofitable
It cost the Samaritan to care for the man. Besides the discomfort of other people’s looks, he put the beaten man on his own saddle, and walked while the wretched Jew rode. When they got to town, the Samaritan paid for the man’s room at the inn. He even promised to pay more if that’s what it took.
In every way love costs. If it doesn’t, it isn’t love! Great love is very costly. If you doubt that, go back to the Gospels and check out the cross. It cost God a whole lot to love your sin away.
Ø Love People Even When It’s Uncomfortable.
The Samaritan could not have been very comfortable with what he did when he took the first step towards that ditch. I can imagine his mind -
Ø What am I doing here? I don’t even know this guy.
Ø Man, this Jew smells…don’t they ever wash?
Ø My wife is gonna kill me, this money was for the tune-up on her camel.
Ø Aw, spit - look at his eyes - this guy’s gonna die if someone don’t help him. Okay…c’mon my little Jewish pain in the neck. Get up on that saddle, Samaritan pushover’s gonna give you a ride to the doctor.
Can we talk? You and I have our "comfort zones". The Samaritan didn’t LIKE the Jew. But he did love him. You will probably experience discomfort when you love - but that’s what happens when you live by the royal law of love.
Chuck Colson, in his book, Loving God, tells the story of Mickey Cohen, a famous gangster who supposedly made a profession of faith in Christ. His "conversion" was highly publicized in the papers and other new media. Cohen’s problem, though, was that his lifestyle actually changed little. He continued to be involved with his Mafia connections and many of his underworld activities.
When confronted with his need for change in his lifestyle, Cohen replied, "Couldn’t God use a Christian gangster?" He expected Christianity to adapt to his lifestyle, rather than adapt his lifestyle to Christianity.
Favoritism and prejudice are sinfully wrong. It shames the poor, divides the church and leads people astray. Living as a follower of Jesus Christ means a higher road, looking up, loving. And loving according to the royal law - when it’s unpopular, inconvenient, unprofitable and uncomfortable.
When you love others God changes things. It’s the way He set things up in this universe. His rule is that mercy triumphs over judgment. Loving, just because Jesus loves you is the way of a winner!
My challenge for each of us is to try that for the next thirty days. Love unconditionally - no matter the cost. Watch the changes - in other people - and in you. Watch mercy triumph!
It Shames the Poor
There were not many chairs in the synagogues. To offer someone a chair, with a footstool, was a high honor. To make someone sit on the floor under the footstool was a slap in the face. It said you considered that person to be of little value.
How inappropriate in a setting where the gatherers were all people for whom Jesus died. He didn’t consider any of us of little value!
From Sermon by Rodney Buchanan on Sermon Central
Favoritism is a sin, but the second point that the Scripture makes clear is: Favoritism is a serious mistake, because appearances can be deceiving. Jesus blew the mind of the religious leaders of the day with unlikely people who became his followers. There were tax collectors and prostitutes, political extremists and socially disenfranchised, and the poor and lame. There was the woman by the well and the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. There were James and John, the Sons of Thunder — and even Judas Iscariot. His parables made heros out of people we would never expect, like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. And who can forget the Rich Man and Lazarus? His sayings turned the thinking of the day upside down, or rather right-side up. He said the last would be first, the poor would be blessed, only servants could be leaders, the simple were wise, and those of low position would be lifted to a place of honor. In God’s economy appearances are deceiving because it is an upside down kingdom. It is the poor who are rich and the rich who are poor. It is the weak who are strong and the strong who are weak. So when we show favoritism to those who have position and power in this culture we are honoring the wrong people.
When we go by outward appearance we are missing what God is doing. The Old Testament has the story of Samuel who had been sent by God to the sons of Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel. God’s man for king of Israel was David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons. But as Eliab, the oldest son appeared before Samuel, he was sure this was God’s man, for he was tall and good looking. The Bible says, “Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:6-7). If Samuel had gone by outward appearances he would have missed anointing the greatest king in the history of Israel.
What mistakes we make when we judge people by their appearance. I have been so wonderfully surprised at times by people whose outward appearance would lead you to believe that they did not have much to offer, but as they came to Christ the beauty of God flowed out of their lives in remarkable ways. Perhaps they did not have much education, but they became full of the wisdom of God as they faithfully followed him. Perhaps they did not have much money, but they became extremely generous and giving because of how the grace of God had touched their lives. Perhaps they were not physically attractive, but their hearts became so beautiful as a result of God’s touch that people were drawn to their inner beauty. So when we reject people based on outward appearance we make a serious mistake, because appearances can be deceiving — not to mention that it is an insult to God who has made them in his image.
When Mother Teresa worked among the lepers in Calcutta, she was not put off by the stench of the leper colonies, the filthy wounds or rotting flesh of the people there. Instead, she touched them and held them, for she saw Jesus in them. Indeed, she saw Jesus coming to her masquerading as a leper. As she touched them she saw herself touch Christ, in what she said was “his distressing disguise.” It was Mother Teresa who said, “If we don’t accept Jesus in one another, we will not be able to give him to others.” One of the great commentaries on how this world views people occurred when Mother Teresa died. In the comedy of God she went home to her reward the same week that Princess Diana was killed. The world grieved and mourned the Princess who had become the icon of pop culture. People cried as though they had lost a close personal friend. All the networks covered the story — and did so endlessly. Forget that her life was immoral and shallow, she was beautiful, sophisticated, famous and wealthy. The networks carried the news of Mother Teresa’s death almost as an afterthought, embarrassed that it had to interfere with the real news. Forget that her life was enormous and that her contribution to the world was incalculable. Forget that she did not run a charitable organization in sterile fashion from a luxurious home in England, but got her hands dirty washing the festering sores on what remained of a leper’s foot, and soiled her robe holding them close to her breast. Forget that she had a heart as big as the sky and touched people’s lives so that they wanted to love God and be better people. Forget the hope and love she gave to people who had neither, she was an old, shriveled up, celibate nun. She would have been very out of place in London’s night clubs, but she was very much at home in a leper colony — and in the kingdom of God.
Favoritism is a serious mistake because it is a sin, and because appearances can be deceiving. But the third point the Scripture makes clear is: Favoritism is a serious mistake, because God opposes the proud. The Bible says, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). It says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3). When you think you are better than someone else, God opposes you. When you think you are more worthy of people’s attention than someone else, God opposes you. When you think that what you say should carry more weight than someone else, God opposes you. When you think that you are better than others because you are intelligent, good looking or a good athlete, God opposes you. When you lack humility, God opposes you.
At one point Jesus sent out seventy-two of his followers to preach and heal in the surrounding towns. When they returned they were full of joy at what God had done through them. You might think that those who were trained at Jerusalem Theological Seminary would have been best suited for this task, but Jesus rejected the educated religious professionals. The Bible says, “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure’” (Luke 10:21). The number one qualification for being used by God is a humble, teachable spirit. If you think you have arrived then you need to know that you haven’t even left the station.
The apostle Peter was one who had trouble with this. He was proud to be a Jew. Even after spending three years with Jesus, even after the resurrection, even after Pentecost, he still thought God preferred the people of his race. His pride and prejudice kept him from fully being a part of God’s work in the world. But God was about to bring him face to face with his idiotic pride. Jews were not allowed to eat certain kinds of meat according to the biblical law. But God came to Peter in a vision. He showed him several unclean animals that were unlawful to eat, coming down out of heaven on a sheet. God spoke to Peter and said, “Get up, kill and eat.” But Peter protested. He would not touch anything unclean. However, God persisted and showed him the vision three times. He heard a voice saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). Then he woke up. And as he did, three men who were not Jews came asking him to go to the house of a Roman centurion in order that he might tell them how to find God. Peter would never have considered going into the home of someone who was not a Jew before, but God had enlarged his thinking through the vision. As he went into the home and began explaining to them the things of God, he said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. . . . I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34). He was no longer being proud and judgmental. He was no longer comparing himself with others. He was no longer looking at others with human eyes, but with the eyes of God. He understood that when we see some people as less important than others we do not see them as Christ sees them.
One Sunday, back in the1970’s, a young man walked into a church midpoint in the service. His hair was long like his hippie friends. He was not especially clean. His clothes were frayed from living on the road, and his feet were bare. But this particular day he had purposely come to church with a desire to find God. He was not there to make a statement or cause trouble. He just wanted to know how to experience the love of Jesus that he had heard others talk about. He didn’t know much about church, and so he wandered down the isle while the preacher was in the middle of his sermon. He sat on the floor with his legs folded under him and looked up at the pulpit. The preacher did not quite know what to do. The people were completely taken aback. A rumble of voices could be heard throughout the congregation. People were indignant. “The nerve of him,” someone could be heard to say. “Well I never!” said another. Someone’s voice rose to say, “Why doesn’t somebody do something?” The ushers began to collect their courage to go down as a group and escort him out of the church. But just then, one of the oldest and most respected members of the church walked quietly down the isle, took off his shoes and socks, and sat with the young man while the preacher finished his sermon. And when the preacher opened the altar for anyone who would like to find God in their lives, the young man knelt at the altar — with the old man beside him.
Rodney J. Buchanan
March 18, 2001
Mulberry Street UMC
Mt. Vernon, OH
“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism” (James 2:1).
Favoritism is a serious mistake because . . .
1. It is ______________________________________________ .
2. Appearances ____________________________________ .
3. God _____________________________________________ .
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION (Mar 18, 2001)
1. What are the things that this culture uses to evaluate the worth of people?
2. Read James 2:1-4. What examples does James give of how the sin of favoritism was at work in the early church?
3. What are some ways in which favoritism or partiality are a problem for the church today?
4. Why is favoritism such a serious sin?
5. Read Romans 2:11. What would life feel like if this were not true?
6. Think about the kind of people who were Jesus’ followers. Would they be welcome in most churches today? What can we do to make our church more welcoming?
7. Read 1 Samuel 16:7. What is God looking for in a person?
8. Read Luke 10:21. Why would God do this? What is the value in being “little children”?
9. Read Acts 10:15. What did Peter hear the voice saying to him? What implications does this message have for us?
10. In this “Culture of Cool”, how are we to think about ourselves? How are we to relate to others?
11. Think of someone you have been turned off by and pray that you would have an opportunity to minister to them in some way