Summary: God wants us to extend His love and mercy to everyone, regardless of their status in life.
The Triumph of Mercy
Intro: Our country was founded on principles of equality and justice. The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This statement alone does a pretty good job of leveling the playing field with respect to favoritism based on class, wealth, religious disposition, and even gender and race, although it has taken much more time for change to occur in the last two.
-James makes a case for equality in today’s reading. The issue isn’t as much about rights as it is about having a heart that is right. Class distinction and social hierarchy have been around for a long time. Our world is still segmented based on the amount of wealth a person has. However, James makes it crystal clear that it should not be that way for those who are followers of Jesus – especially when they gather for worship! There is a better way to live that is much more in tune with the heart of God.
-We already touched on the status of the rich and the poor in James 1, but today we want to dig a little deeper and find out what God’s expectations are for His followers as they interact with the rich and the poor. Here’s the main thought I want to look at:
Prop: God wants us to extend His love and mercy to everyone, regardless of their status in life.
TS: Let’s identify some winning ways and some losing ways to manage the mercy God has given us.
I. Mercy Withheld: Slighting the Poor (1-4)
1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
-Believers were apparently overlooking and devaluing some of the poor people in their church family in favor of others who seemed to have a lot more to offer. James has heard of it and is writing to correct their perspective and behavior.
-The answer, of course, is not to elevate the poor above the rich, but to treat everyone as equals in the sight of God. It is selfish to cater to the rich because it reflects such ulterior motives as hoping for material gain from them or for their approval, or even for the elevation in status or credibility they may appear to bring to you or your group. God is not impressed by wealth, nor is He dependent upon it. He looks on the heart, and if the heart lacks mercy then it lacks the merciful presence of God. So we must not withhold our love or mercy or royal treatment from those who do not seem worthy of it. It is wrong for us to value someone based on what they have that we like or want! It is wrong for us to estimate someone’s value based on what they don’t have as well!
-Instead, let’s look at how God treats those who do not seem to have much to offer.
II. Mercy Modeled: Honoring the Poor (5)
5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?
-God’s mercy flows downward. If you ever watched the movement of water that has been released, you can see that it finds its way to the lowest possible places. I discovered this first hand when I was a kid, living in the town of Austin. There was a ditch that ran along the hill above our little town of 18 people. One day I continued the work that a ground squirrel had started and before you knew it I had a nice little current running straight down into the meadow. The water found the lowest place to go, and I found myself in the deepest of trouble with the rancher who owned the surrounding pasture land.
-God’s mercy is not reserved for those on high ground who are living the high life! His mercy flows down to those in the lowest of circumstances, with perhaps the least to show for themselves. Those who have so little are honored by the Lord. Why? Because they can perhaps more easily recognize what is true of all mankind, namely that we are all poverty-stricken and have nothing to show for ourselves. Maybe the simplicity of poverty clears the way for them to embrace the promises of God without all of the attachment to wealth and status.