Summary: We might say "The clothes make the man," but God is more interested in the heart, and so should we be.
James 2:1-13 January 26, 2003
Not What The Eye Sees
They say “the clothes make the man.” It is probably not that the clothes make the man, but that the clothes make our opinion of the man, or the woman.
When I was in university, I was heavily involved with a Christian group on campus called Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. In my final year, I was president of the club. I also had fairly radical tastes in music, and style – My jeans had many patches and holes, I wore political t-shirts, I did not look like the typical button down Christian. Whenever they would have a large event that gathered all the Christian organizations on campus, My room-mate Steve would say to me “You’re not going to dress like that are you, you know you’re going to get evangelized!”
They also say to not judge the book by its cover, but the reality is that we do – we make judgments on people based on the way that they dress, how expensive their clothes or car is, the color of their skin, their attractiveness, culture…
James says that this should not be the way in the church. Particularly when it comes to a person’s wealth.
Do Not Show Partiality
The Story That Hurts – 1-4
James gives this illustration of two people coming into church – one who pulled up in a jag, is wearing fine clothes, with an heirloom ring on his finger, the other one does his shopping at Good Will and Dumpster Dan’s. The usher greets the rich guy with a warm handshake, takes him to the front to introduce him to the pastor, and seats him in the best seat in the house. He tells the other fellow, “sit here at my feet where I can keep an eye on you!”
I call this the story that hurts, because while it may be a little exaggerated, it comes pretty close to the truth. Even in our casual, friendly, and accepting church we can find that it is much easier to be accepting of the people who look like us (or people that we’d like to look like), rather than the ones who are down on their luck.
Our difficulty in welcoming the poor is not all partiality; part of the reason for this is just ease in communication.
My missions professor in Seminary used to say that economic barriers are harder to cross than cultural barriers. I have more in common with a university educated, middle class person from Ghana than I do with the guy who was born in Toronto and panhandles down on Bloor.
When I first started at Parkdale neighbourhood church, my most common way to start a conversation was to ask “So, what do you do.” When the answer is “I sit on the bench and drink all day, what do you do?” I needed to find other conversation starters.
The reason for our difficulty that James deals with is that we judge those who are well off in the world to be better.
We would like to be friends with those who are better off than we are – maybe they’ll let us borrow the Jag! We are afraid of the cost of befriending those who are worse of than we are – maybe they will ask to borrow the Jag! We usually assume that poor people will be high needs – we will have to give up something – time, emotional energy, money – it may be that in reality we don’t trust them – keep an eye on “the silver” when they are around!
James says we cannot make these distinctions in our mind.
26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In Christ, all the outward distinctions that we have become almost nothing. No matter what clothing we wear, we are first clothed with Christ. No matter what we look like on the outside, whether it be our ethnicity, our economics, or our gender, the enveloping of Christ covers that.
This is a Gospel principle and should never be forgotten.
The sad truth is the church has not always acted in this Gospel principle.
In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he o worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned, “If Christians have caste differences also, “ he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior.