Summary: When we glory in the status of people, we forget how far we all fall short of the glory of God. The only thing we can glory in is the imputed righteousness of Christ. We forget that when we don’t treat people right.
1. Introduction (2:1)
2. Treat people in light of man’s motives (2:2-4)
3. Treat people in light of God’s purposes (2:5-7)
4. Treat people in light of Jesus’ commandments (2:8-11)
5. Treat people in light of God’s mercy (2:12-13)
I recently heard a story about a man who was the interim pastor of a church. He hadn’t been at the church for long, so the people didn’t know him very well yet. Interim pastors are in a very unique position. Many times they have a lot more insight into what’s really going on in a church than people who have been there forever. Not only do they have more insight than the people, most of the time they have more freedom to do something about it than a full-time pastor does. In other words, they can more easily see the problems. And when they see the problems, they are free to do something about them. Apparently that’s the way this man felt. One Sunday morning before church, he didn’t shave or shower or brush his teeth. He dug through the rag bin and found the worst clothes he could find. They were dirty and stained and worn and smelled like they had been in the rag bin for a while. Then he went to the store and bought a bottle of beer and borrowed a shopping cart. He filled the cart with cardboard, aluminum cans and other junk. And then he poured the beer over his clothes. Then about 5 minutes before service started, he slowly pushed his cart up to the front door of the church. He dug around in it for a minute, then proceeded to walk in the church and sit down quietly on the back row. You could’ve heard a pin drop. Of course, nobody recognized who it was. The only thing they saw was a bum sitting on the back row. And the smell! It was awful. Finally, one of the ushers got up and told the man he would have to leave. So he did. He got up, walked out the front door, around the side of the building and into his private office door. Then, when it was time to preach, he walked out of his office, into the sanctuary and took his place behind the pulpit. And there, still dressed in the clothes of a homeless man, he preached on this passage. What an illustration of how we treat people! Do you think they got it? In our passage this morning, James gives us the second test of our faith. Remember that last week, he gave us the Bible test to see if our faith is real. This morning we’re going to be taking the preference test to see if our faith is real. This test is all about how we treat people. In the verse we just read, James tells his readers that it is not possible to combine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ with glorying in the status of people. As a Christian, you’re only glory is Christ. You can’t glorify Christ and people at the same time. And by the way—people includes yourself. When we glory in the status of people, we forget how far we all fall short of the glory of God. The only thing any of us have a right to glory in is the righteousness of Christ. That righteousness that, by His grace and mercy, God credits to us when He saves us. We forget that, when we don’t treat people right. This morning I want each of us to take inventory of the way we treat people—ourselves included. And when we do, I want us to make sure that the only Person we glory in is the Lord Jesus Christ. In order to do that, we’re going to look at four things to consider in the way we treat people. The first consideration is that we should treat people in light of man’s motives. Look with me in verses 2-4:
Treat people in light of man’s motives. That interim pastor that I told you about really just acted out the illustration that James uses here. That’s one of the reasons I’m convinced Pastor James of the First Church of Jerusalem is recording parts of his sermons in this letter. Because of his great illustrations. It makes it easy to grasp the concept when he gives us such an exaggerated example, doesn’t it? If a rich guy in an Armani suit comes walking in the church door, how do you treat him? Especially when he’s followed by a skater kid coming in that looks like he lost a fight with a nail gun? He took all the color out of his clothes and put it in his hair. Do you treat the two of them the same? Does the one get the handshakes and the attention while the other is left to find his own way to a seat? That’s a very vivid illustration that gets the point across. We have to really work to shut the illustration off there, but we do. Because we forget that it is exactly that—an illustration. An illustration of a deeper and fuller truth. It’s obvious that we shouldn’t treat people differently just because they can’t afford top-of-the-line clothes. That’s obvious—but what is the point of the illustration? James gives us such a simple illustration to point out WHY we treat people differently. He wants to show us our motives behind why we treat people differently. We treat people differently because of what verse 4 says. Because we like to set ourselves up as judge and jury. Think about what it means to show partiality. In order to show partiality, first you have to determine a difference between the people in question. Then you have to make a judgment as to which person is better than the other one. Almost inevitably, you will choose the one who is most like you. Unless you don’t like yourself and then you’ll choose the one who is most different than you. But in all cases, when you are judging partiality between two people, who are you setting up as the standard? Who are you measuring the other people in the room against? Yourself. Whenever we show partiality in the way we treat people, we are doing it out of a selfish motive. In James’ illustration, why do you think they gave the rich man the preferred seat? Because of what they could get out of him. Because of the potential for personal benefit. James warns us about extending preferential treatment to a person who can “do something for us.” Who can benefit us. The fact is, man’s motives are selfish. Our natural way of treating people is to give preference to those who will benefit us or will make us look good. Sometimes we show preference to people of high standing for the benefit of what they can do for us. But sometimes we show preference to people of lower standing for the benefit of how good they make us look when we stand next to them. If left unchecked, your motives behind how you treat people will always be rooted in selfishness. You need to be aware of that and treat people accordingly. Ask yourself—why do I treat this person kindly? Is it so I can get something in return? Why do I treat this person poorly? Is it to make me look better? Do you think it makes you look better when you make them look bad or treat them badly? Discover and uncover your motives behind the way you treat people. And treat them right in light of your motives. Not only should we treat others in light of man’s motives. We should treat them in light of God’s purposes. Look at verses 5-7: