No Place In The Church
Text: James 2:1-7
1. Illustration: Prejudice is a disease of the mind that affects the heart. Prejudice is, literally, a pre-formed opinion, usually unfavorable, based on insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings or inaccurate stereotypes. We are all familiar with what is called racial prejudice. More accurately, it should be called "ethnic" prejudice, since there is only one race, and that is the human race – but that’s another study for another time.
2. It's not very difficult to see that there is tremendous racial tensions in our nation. They are at a high such as we have not seen since the 1960's. But do you know where there should never be racial tension? In the church!
3. James makes this clear when he gives us...
A. A Command
B. A Case
C. A Consequence
4. Let's stand together as we read James 2:1-7.
Proposition: In God's kingdom color doesn't matter, so we should see Christians of all races as our brothers and sisters.
Transition: First, James gives us a command.
I. A Command (1).
A. Favor Some People
1. It seems to make sense that there would be no discrimination within the church. After all we are all sinners saved by Grace regardless of the color of our skin, socio-economic status or ethnic background. Yet history seems to tell us a different story.
A. American history shows us that there has racial tensions within the church.
B. Even our Pentecostal history shows us of a separation by race as we have a Pentecostal church for the white's (AG) and a Pentecostal church for the black's (COGIC).
2. But my brother's and sister's this should not be, for James tells us in v. 1, "My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?"
A. On this verse I prefer the NIV which says, "My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism."
B. The reason I prefer the NIV's rendering is that it points out that this is a command! It's not a suggestion, but rather an imperative. There is to be no discrimination in the church!
C. The word translated favor here both its lit. mng. ("receiving the face") and usage denote a judgment based on outward appearance (Vlachos, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament – James, 67).
D. In other words we are not to show favoritism one way or another based on how a person looks.
E. Just as God does not show partiality, neither should believers. Whether people are rich or poor, powerful or weak, influential or despised, to show favoritism to one at the expense of the other is a sin (James 2:1ff.).
F. James says that such partiality often is shown to the very ones who are oppressing, cheating, and exploiting believers! To be guilty of such is to slander the Lord! (The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Pi-Rho, Under: "4240).
G. The brothers and sisters were members of the church and his family in the Christian faith. The family relationship he is describing is limited to those who have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
H. Because of their shared position as believers, James’s readers were to follow the instructions he was about to give them.
I. The believers receiving this letter were already guilty of showing favor to some people more than others. The believers apparently were judging people based only on externals—physical appearance, status, wealth, power; as a result, they were pandering to and being unduly influenced by people who represented these positions of prestige.
J. James’s command remains important for churches today. Often we treat a well-dressed, impressive-looking person better than someone who looks poor.
K. We do this because we would rather identify with successful people than with apparent failures. The irony, as James reminds us, is that the supposed winners may have gained their impressive lifestyle at our expense.
L. Our churches should show no partiality with regard to people’s outward appearance, wealth, or power. The law of love must rule all our attitudes toward others.
M. Too often preferential treatment is given to the rich or powerful when offices for the church need to be filled. Too often, a church brushes aside the suggestions of its more humble or poorer members in favor of the ideas of the wealthy. Such discrimination has no place in our churches (Barton, 1076-1077).
B. God Looks At The Heart
1. In his famous, "I Have A Dream" speech in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
2. Well I have a dream today, that in the church we would no longer judge someone by how they look on the outside, but rather how they look on the inside!
A. 1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
B. I believe that we ought to see people as God sees them, as sinners in need of a Savior.
C. I believe that we should accept one another as Christ accepted us...unconditionally!
D. I believe it doesn't matter what color a person's skin happens to be.
E. I believe it doesn't matter what a persons clothes look like.
F. I believe it doesn't matter how much or how little a person posses.
G. I believe it doesn't matter where a person lives.
H. I believe the only thing that does matter is have you given your heart to Jesus!
Transition: To show us this truth, James gives us...
II. A Case (2-4).
A. For Example
1. It's always good to have a real life example, and so James gives us one.
2. In vv. 2-3 he says, "2 For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes.
3 If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor."
A. James launches into a vivid hypothetical case study. Two men were entering the church meeting. We can assume that these men were both visiting, since they are described only by appearance.
B. One man was rich, as noted by his fancy clothes and expensive jewelry. The other was poor and dressed in shabby clothes.
C. In this scenario, the rich man is given special attention and a good seat. The believers were impressed by him. He became the object of special service and respect.
D. The poor man, however, gets standing room only, or a seat on the floor. He is given neither dignity or comfort.
E. James speaks out against this. It is our relationship with Christ that gives us dignity, not our profession or possessions.
F. When we gather for worship, we ought to be conscious that even if we are familiar with everyone in the room, Christ is present. If there are two or three of us gathered in his name, he is there.
G. Before we worship, we ought to recognize Christ’s presence. Can we not assume that he follows his own advice?
H. When Jesus meets with us, does he assume a place of honor or jostle for our attention? Or should we imagine that Jesus takes the place of deepest humility among us and waits to be recognized as Lord? When we neglect or ignore the poor or powerless, we also ignore Christ (Barton, 1077).
3. James then concludes from this case study, "—well, 4 doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?"
A. James concludes that such discrimination shows that the believers are being guided by wrong motives. James condemned their behavior because Christ had made them all one (Galatians 3:28).
B. Why is it wrong to judge a person by his or her economic status? Wealth may indicate intelligence, wise decisions, and hard work.
C. On the other hand, it may mean only that a person had the good fortune of being born into a wealthy family. Or it can even be a sign of greed, dishonesty, and selfishness.
D. When we honor someone just because he or she dresses well, we make appearance more important than character.
E. Another false assumption that sometimes influences our treatment of the rich is our misunderstanding of God’s relationship to wealth. It is deceptively easy to believe riches are a sign of God’s blessing and approval.
F. But God does not promise us earthly rewards or riches; in fact, Christ calls us to be ready to suffer for him and give up everything in order to hold on to eternal life. We will have untold riches in eternity if we are faithful in our present life (Barton, 1077).
1. What is a Christian? In the LETTER TO DIOGNETUS, which dates back to the second century A.D., an anonymous writer describes a strange people who are in the world but not of the world.
"Christians are not differentiated from other people by country, language, or customs; you see, they do not live in cities of their own, or speak some strange dialect. . . They live in both Greek and foreign cities, wherever chance has put them. They follow local customs in clothing, food, and other aspects of life. But at the same time, they demonstrate to us the unusual form of their own citizenship.
"They live in their own native lands, but as aliens. . . Every foreign country is to them as their native country, and every native land as a foreign country.
"They marry and have children just like everyone else, but they do not kill unwanted babies. They offer a shared table, but not a shared bed. They are passing their days on earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the appointed laws and go beyond the laws in their own lives.
"They love everyone, but are persecuted by all. They are put to death and gain life. They are poor and yet make many rich.
They are dishonored and yet gain glory through dishonor. Their names are blackened and yet they are cleared. They are mocked and bless in return. They are treated outrageously and behave respectfully to others.
"When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if being given new life. They are attacked by Jews as aliens and are persecuted by Greeks; yet those who hate them cannot give any reason for their hostility."
The word "Christian" has lost much of its meaning in our culture. It means "Christ in one."
2. Discrimination in the church is wrong because in Christ we are all one!
A. Galatians 3:26-28 (NLT)
26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on the character of Christ, like putting on new clothes.
28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
B. In Christ it doesn't matter who your Father was, because we all have one heavenly Father.
C. In Christ it doesn't matter where or if you went to school, because we are all disciple of the great teacher Jesus!
D. In Christ it doesn't matter where you came from because we are all citizens of a heavenly homeland where there is no more tears, no more pain, and no more night because the Son is always shinning.
E. Since this is true we have no right to show favoritism to anyone who walks through our door.
F. We have no right to discriminate based color, nationality, background or even political persuasion!
G. We are all the same undesirables and deplorables that the world rejects because they have rejected Jesus!
H. Therefore let us not reject one another!
Transition: Then James gives us...
III. A Consequence (5-7).
A. Rich In Faith
1. Next James appeals to them stop discriminating against one another by calling on a higher calling.
2. Look with me at v. 5, "Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?"
A. Jesus’ first followers were common people. God chose the poor in this world to be rich in faith.
B. Christianity has a special message for the poor. In a social system that gave the poor very little, Jesus’ message to them was certainly good news. The poor people may not have mattered in that society, but they mattered very much to God.
C. The poor will inherit the kingdom God promised to those who love him. The poverty of poor believers is only poverty in the eyes of the world, but they are rich in faith and will inherit the Kingdom.
D. The rich are not excluded from the Kingdom; just as the poor are not “chosen” due to any merit of poverty. However, great riches can stand in the way of a person recognizing his or her need for God.
E. The poor, on the other hand, have nothing about which they can boast before God. To continue to show favoritism to those who are only rich by the world’s standards is not only wrong, but shortsighted.
F. Rich or poor, believers must obey God and love him. This could be called the heart of James’s message.
G. If we really love God, both our faith in him and our obedience to him will be right. We will not belittle anyone with whom we share a common inheritance (Barton, 1077).
3. Then James points us to the reality of discrimination. He says, "But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? 7 Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?"
A. These believers insult the poor because they were not treating them as God treats them. James showed how evil their actions were by making three observations.
B. First, it is the rich who oppress others. In this society, the rich oppressed the poor. In James’s original case study, both the rich person and the poor person are probably visitors to the church who are unbelievers.
C. At best they are people whose faith is not yet known. So how wrong it is to fawn over this rich person who may not be a believer, and ignore the poor person, who might be a believer.
D. Second, the rich typically showed no mercy or concern for the poor. They would take the poor into court, most likely for not repaying a debt.
E. Wealthy moneylenders often took advantage of the poor. A creditor, if he met a debtor on the street, could literally grab him and drag him into court.
F. But economic persecution was not the only oppression these believers faced from the wealthy; James’s third observation focuses on religious persecution.
G. These rich people are the ones who slander Jesus Christ either by speaking evil of him or by insulting Christians. James pointed out the irony that Christians would show favoritism to those who were known to slander Christ! (Barton, 1077).
B. Brothers And Sisters
1. Illustration: Philip Yancey put it this way in an article in Christianity Today just this last November. He writes, "As I read accounts of the New Testament church, no characteristic stands out more sharply than [diversity]. Beginning with Pentecost, the Christian church dismantled the barriers of gender, race, and social class that had marked Jewish congregations. Paul, who as a rabbi had given thanks daily that he was not born a woman, slave, or Gentile, marveled over the radical change: ’There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’
"One modern Indian pastor told me, ’Most of what happens in Christian churches, including even miracles, can be duplicated in Hindu and Muslim congregations. But in my area only Christians strive, however ineptly, to mix men and women of different castes, races, and social groups. That’s the real miracle.’"
Yancey continues, "Diversity complicates rather than simplifies life. Perhaps for this reason we tend to surround ourselves with people of similar age, economic class, and opinion. Church offers a place where infants and grandparents, unemployed and executives, immigrants and blue bloods can come together. Just yesterday," Yancey wrote, "I sat sandwiched between an elderly man hooked up to a tank puffing oxygen and a breastfeeding baby who grunted loudly and contentedly throughout the sermon. Where else can we find that mixture?
"When I walk into a new church," Yancey says, "the more its members resemble each other—-and resemble me-—the more uncomfortable I feel."
(Source: Philip Yancey, "Denominational Diagnostics," Christianity Today, November 2008, p. 119).
2. We had better embrace adversity in the church now or heaven will be a very uncomfortable place!
A. Revelation 7:9-10 (NLT)
9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands.
10 And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”
B. In heaven you will not get to choose with whom you worship.
C. In heaven you will not get to choose who sits next to you.
D. Because heaven will be filled with people from every tribe, language and people.
E. It will be filled with black people.
F. It will be filled with Hispanic people.
G. It will be filled with Asian people.
H. It will be filled with Indian people.
I. It will be filled with Arab people.
J. It will be filled Native American people.
K. It will also be filled with poor people, bikers, and people with long greasy hair.
L. So if you are uncomfortable now with people different than you, then you will not be very happy in heaven!
1. James makes this clear when he gives us...
A. A Command
B. A Case
C. A Consequence
2. Here are three things to remember...
A. Scripture commands us to love people regardless of their color or socio-economic status.
B. Scripture reminds us that we are all sinners saved by grace, and therefore, we have no right to discriminate.
C. Scripture reminds us that if we are in Christ we are a new creation and a part of God's family.