Summary: As followers of Christ Jesus we cannot pick and choose our neighbors. Nor can we pick and choose what teachings we will follow.
James 2: 1 – 17 / Do All Things Well
Intro: When I lived in South Bend, Indiana my family and I would frequent a restaurant called “The King’s Table.” This restaurant had by far the largest buffet I have ever seen. There was every kind of meat you could imagine, every type of vegetable, and the desert buffet! --- It took a whole room! You can tell from my size that I thought I was in “hog heaven.” An interesting phenomenon takes place when we visit such a sumptuous buffet. We can’t possibly eat everything, so we pick and choose what we want based on what is most appealing to us. --- Viewing the church as such a buffet leads us to believe that we can pick and choose those people and things that are most appealing to us.
I. VSS. 1-7 speaks to the choices churches make in terms of people. These verses show a community that acts in opposition to its professed ideals.
A. The Christian community was the only place in the ancient world where social distinctions did not exist. Yet, here James says the church has shown partiality to the wealthy at the expense of the poor. The Greek word used by James for “PARTIALITY” is a literal translation of a Hebrew phrase translated into English as “to lift up a person’s countenance” or “to regard a person with favor.” Judgment based on the outward appearance.
B. Imagine a dirty, bewildered street person wandering into a church on Sunday morning seeking warmth and a cup of coffee. In most cases that would make for an uncomfortable time for some people. --- People can, because of appearance, size, gender, sexual orientation and status, challenge our recollection that the church is supposed to be a “kingdom” made up of just such inconvenient and unacceptable persons.
C. Mahatma Ghandi as a young man read and studied the NT. He felt perhaps these teachings could help him remove the evils of the caste system in his country. So, he went to a Christian Church one Sunday and was turned away by an usher who said, “why don’t you go worship with your own kind.” --- Ghandi remained a Hindu for the remainder of his life. Are there ways in which we say to people, “why don’t you go worship with your own kind?”
II. Just as we want to choose those with whom we will worship and associate from the smorgasbord of life, we also want to choose which beliefs we will adopt. VSS. 8 – 13 show how such behavior is inconsistent with the claim to live by the law of love taught by Jesus.
A. When James wrote he talked first about not showing favoritism toward others, and loving all treating all equally. Then he goes on to talk about not showing favoritism toward the laws of God by obeying some and ignoring others.
B. A person can be a “good person” and yet spoil it all by one fault. You may be moral in action, pure in speech, meticulous about devotion; but be hard and self-righteous, rigid and unsympathetic. If so, all the goodness is spoiled by the infecting fault.
C. James goes on to say that if you keep all the laws but one, you are still a law-breaker. Isn’t that true in our own society? If you are convicted of breaking just one law you are viewed as a criminal. Why do we expect it to be different in the church. The person who claims to live by the law of love, yet practices the sort of discrimination that the law of love itself forbids has broken the law of love entirely. The transgression is not against a “commandment” it is against the law-giver.
III. VS. 17 – “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
A. For James, the Christian faith is a working faith, one that follows through and gets results because of the Christian’s relationship to Christ Jesus. What significance has membership in a church if one does not honestly seek to live in accordance with the principles upon which it is founded?
B. Many of those who register as believers in God are not much affected morally or spiritually for the better by the belief which they profess. It was not always the case. It seems that the living faith of the dead has become the dead faith of the living. The unity of attitude, belief and action is necessary. The recital of a creed does not make a person acceptable to God. How easy it is for communities of faith to become double-minded, not only in their marginalization of those whose appearance it finds uncomfortable, but also by ignoring certain teachings of Christ Jesus that are “too hard.”