Summary: Problem of catering to rich and showing respect of persons is addressed.
Catering to the Rich & Influential
Have you ever been in a church that catered to the rich? There was a mega church back west where a pastor was leading a corporate prayer meeting. His prayer went something like this, “Lord, send us successful people. Send us the doctors, and lawyers, and CEO’s. Send us movers and shakers who bring strength to your work here. Cause our church to grow in numbers and in financial strength. We ask it in Jesus name.” Anybody see a potential problem in that prayer? It’s not my place to judge the pastor or the work that is going on there. Interestingly, that church did grow and attract a lot of upper middle class people. The attendance was about 1,500 when that prayer was offered and the church runs about 10,000 today. But the prayer raises some concerns in me. It may reflect some wrong thinking. It sounds more like the thinking of the world than the mind of Christ. I’m cautious about following that example because it sounds too much like something James talks about in our text.
Look with me at our text in James 2:1-13.
“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?
5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
8 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. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
I. James IDENTIFIES a Problem.
James is addressing a problem that existed in the early church. It is a problem in the church today—partiality—treating one person different from another because of the money and influence they have. James illustrates the point with a hypothetical story. Two people visit the church. One is wearing an expensive suit. The ring on his finger obviously cost a lot of money. He is well-known in the community. The pastor rushes over to greet him and make sure he feels welcome. The usher walks the man to a nice comfortable place to sit and let’s him know just how glad we are that he came this morning. None of that is bad in and of itself. But the motive gets revealed by the way they treat the next visitor. He’s a beggar with no social standing. He doesn’t even have a job. His cloths are not just worn and dingy; they are down right stinky. The guy obviously hasn’t shaved in a week. On the surface he has nothing to offer the church but a whole lot of need. He doesn’t get greeted by the pastor. The usher ignores him at first. But then he leads the guy to worst seat in the house. James says he tells the guy to “stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool." They don’t care if the guy comes back or not.
I think we all get a pretty good picture of what’s going on. But why is this happening? James says in verse 4, “have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? The Living Bible says “shows that you are guided by wrong motives.” What is the motive behind this show of partiality? Pure selfishness. Why are we tempted to kiss up to influential people? We think they can do something for us. Maybe this wealthy guy will join the church and start putting in a lot of money. Maybe that will lift some of the financial pressures we’re dealing with.