Listen: Simon Manchester presents Christian Growth.
In this episode, Simon teaches from James, in the New Testament – and how to assess people not by worldly values, but by God’s.
Follow this series at Lessons From The Book of James — A ‘Christian Growth’ Series
Well Good Morning everybody – we are in our fourth Sunday morning in the Letter of James in the New Testament.
The big issue that we are facing today – you may be slightly disappointed to hear this is the subject of ‘Favouritism’. Chapter 2 verse 1 says ‘don’t show favouritism’. Chapter 2 verse 9 ‘if you show favouritism, you sin’.
And I looked at this and I thought to myself, this is a fairly weird and left field sort of subject and the congregation are going to turn up on Sunday morning and their lives are very complicated, and there are all sorts of burdens hanging on their hearts, and here we are looking at the subject of ‘Favouritism’. I hope however to show you that this is an extremely helpful, significant and some ways liberating subject – and I want to try and do this for a few minutes before we turn to the text by just asking a few questions.
The first question is: If you were writing the letter of James, what do you consider people to be facing all the time?
Now James starts the letter by assuming, wisely, that people are facing troubles and trials. That’s the way the letter starts. And I suspect that it is absolutely right. We are never going to have days, weeks or months where we are not facing lots of little troubles, tests or trials. And the wise advice of James is that you should assess what is happening in the light of what the Bible tells us, which is that God loves you. That he is wise, that is powerful – and that he is at work. And that will change the perspective on some of the trials and the tests.
He then says – you are going to face temptations all the time. And he urges us not to trace the temptation to God’s malicious workings (as if God could ever work maliciously) but to trace a huge amount of temptation to our own sinfulness. And he urges us as we saw two weeks ago to credit God with good and to recognise evil in our own hearts.
And then as we saw last week, he urges his readers to take the good gift of God’s Word and try putting it into practice because then there will be a growth in faith and in faithfulness. There is a summary of the last three Sundays.
Assess Others in Light of God’s Word
But the other thing which people are going to face all the time is people and we can’t in a way get away from people. We have got family people, we have got neighbours, we have got people we meet in the shops and the streets, there are strangers, there are work colleagues and because we belong to the family of God, there are the people of God (fellow Christians). And we need to assess one another also with faith. We have to somehow treat one another as if we are working from the Bible rather than just from our own nature.
Just as we are to assess trials and temptations in the light of the Bible, we are to assess one another in the light of the Bible and not just as we would naturally. Because if we assess people naturally, we will sometimes fear them (the fear of man is a snare), we will sometimes overly honour them, may be even worship them, sometimes we will dislike them, sometimes we will envy them, sometimes we will ignore them and sometimes we will favour them – which James is writing to avoid.
And so he literally says in chapter 2 verse 1 ‘My brothers and sisters, don’t have faith in Christ with face-reception’. That’s what he literally says in the original language. ‘Don’t try and combine faith in Christ with face-receiving’ – which simply means don’t think that you can combine Christianity with a face-assessment of somebody. You can’t do the two together.
The Problem of Taking People at Face Value
Now the problem, of course, is that we do – that’s why we get so enslaved and mislead and confused. We put some people up and we put some people down. We live more by face (FACE) than by faith (FAITH). So James is going to help us and equip us in the verses that we are going to look at to think well and to relate well.
The second question however by way of introduction is – How many ways does favouritism or partiality work or cut? And the answer is that it works hundreds of ways.
- We can treat people by their looks – attractive or unattractive.
- We can treat people by their age.
- We can treat people by their wealth.
- We can treat people by their friendliness.
- We can treat people by their usefulness.
- We can treat people by their power.
And the treatment can go either way. Someone may meet a very powerful man and fawn. Someone else may meet a powerful man and attack. You might meet a young person and envy them. You might meet a young person and despise them.
Image if you were on an interview panel to award a Christian Scholarship and the people got down to two and one of them was a fairly pompous geeky white boy and one of them was a sweet attractive Aboriginal girl. Which way is the Scholarship pressure going to go?
So the issue that James raises is a very big one and I realise as I read the letter that it’s much bigger than St Thomas’, North Sydney. This is a letter which has been going around the world for 2000 years and last week I was reminded of how parochially I often interpret the Bible because there I was attempting to explain a section last Sunday, and Stephanie Browning quite firmly and sweetly said that if I lived in another part of the world I would see much more than I saw. So this letter is a huge, deep, wide and wonderful letter.
Why Favouritism is a Problem
The last question I want to ask is: How does favouritism really affect things – why does favouritism really matter? If you read the verses which we have this morning in chapter 2: 1-13, you will see that here is a summary of reasons why favouritism matters. Verse 4 – if you treat people with favouritism or partiality or special treatment, it means you discriminate. And in the fellowship of course that’s extremely significant. And you become, says James, judgmental (chapter 2 verse 4).
To be judgemental of course is very destructive to fellowship. It means that we take a position of superiority that we are not entitled to. Or look at verse 6 – if we are people of favouritism or partiality we will end up insulting the poor who God does not insult and we will end up giving favour or power to the rich who God often brings down. God repeatedly elevates the humble poor and he repeatedly demotes the proud rich.
“Pray that God would help us relate to people with the ‘glasses of the Bible’, and not just with our own instincts and prejudices.”
So if our fellowship, if our church, takes the opposite position to God, well we will undermine the Gospel. And then look at verse 9 – if we exercise favouritism it’s a sin against people, it’s law breaking – and then look at verse 12 – if we exercise favouritism we need to remember that we are one day going to be assessed or judged ourselves and we are going to be assessed or judged for the life that we have lived. And since God has put a new life into his people, that life is going to be assessed or judged.
And so it is good for us to see now why this issue is a big one and how James equips us and all I can say is that when this is over in a few minutes and we just basically move out, that somehow we will need to be uttering a small genuine prayer that God would help us to relate to people as Christians with the ‘glasses of the Bible’ and not just with our own instincts and our own affections and prejudices.
Now there are four brief helps, and these are going to be very fast.
The first (verses 1-4) is Remember God’s Son. Look at chapter 2 verse 1 ‘My brothers, my sisters as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ’. Remember James gave Jesus no glory growing up. We have said each Sunday that James (half-brother of Jesus) grew up in the home and did not credit his brother with the status that he deserved. And it wasn’t until Jesus was raised from the dead and apparently went to meet with his brother James and confronted him and probably shocked him and James began to see this half-brother of mine is God come into the world, has died, has been raised and is glorious – unstoppably and unspeakably glorious.
Remember God’s Son – See People in the Light of Jesus’ Glory
And the first key to seeing people properly is to see Jesus properly – to see him in all his glory. And therefore what this will do is two people will walk into the building and we are conscious that Jesus is very great, much greater than anybody who walks into the building and much more loving than anybody else in the building. And so we will begin to treat the very wealthy person in a proper way and we will begin to treat the very needy and unattractive person in a proper way – it will be done in the light of the greatness and the glory of Jesus. So when Jesus looms large in our minds (which is not easy) people will be in proper perspective.
Now I think this is a real challenge. We’ve had quite prominent people come to this building. In the last years we have had two of our Prime Ministers come on a reasonably regular basis to worship here at the 8 o’clock Service. We have had the governor when she was in the area on a regular basis. And the challenge is to treat them with the respect which we ought to treat them with because the Bible tells us – we ought to treat our leaders with respect – but also not to glorify them or think of them as being of more worth than anybody else in the building – how do we do this with respect but still give the glory to Jesus?
- How do we see through the Politician who turns up as if they are better or worse than anybody else?
- What happens when somebody comes who is a really famous actor?
- What happens when somebody comes who is a great athlete?
Do we find ourselves (yes humanly we do) yes, we find ourselves reacting unusually but a very great perspective on Jesus will help us to see people in perspective as well. People in the Bible who saw something of God’s glory were much better at dealing with people after that.
Think of Moses after he had been up Mt Sinai – he was not the slightest bit afraid of the Israelites. Think of Isaiah when he had seen the Lord in his glory and in all his holiness – he immediately saw himself and all the people of God as being very unholy. Think of the Apostle Paul having seen Jesus on the road to Damascus when he is suddenly confronted with the greatness and the glory of Jesus – he is prepared to stand in front of anybody, kings or governors and testify with great boldness.
I was reading this week that the largest star that has been discovered in the Universe is called “Canis Majora” which literally means ‘big dog’. And this star is so big that if you want to get a picture of how big it is you think of the earth as a golf ball and this star is the size of Mount Everest! That’s big. The distance between the earth and the sun is 93 million miles; the diameter of this star is 8 or 9 times the distance between the earth and the sun. It is a huge star.
And once you have recognised something that big it’s very hard after that to see the Earth as a big planet. It is a very, very significant planet and it’s the most significant, but it’s not so big. And when a person gets a good grip or grasp of Jesus we begin to see people more clearly and more appropriately. Therefore I can only say that we need to meditate on the person of Jesus and spend time in his presence, as the old chorus from Sunday School says:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
I was sitting with some people this week and we just started talking about the greatness of God, the greatness of Jesus and we expanded and it was very edifying and will help us as we deal with one another. So there’s the first piece of wisdom from James – Remember God’s Son.
Remember God’s Salvation – It’s for Everyone
Now the second help (verses 5-7): remember God’s salvation. Verse 5 – who does God choose to save? Answer – he chooses to save those who are poor in the eyes of the world. This doesn’t mean that he only chooses people who have got few dollars – this means that he regularly picks people the world would not pick. So God’s family is always a testimony to his grace and not a testimony to human greatness. Otherwise the church would be made up of people walking around boasting and saying ‘Why did God pick you?’ ‘Oh because I am great in this area, I am great in this area, that’s why he picked me, he needed me’. The church never does that – the church walks around and says ‘it’s grace’, and that’s what it will be like in heaven. So again and again God picks poor people, people that the world finds not so impressive.
The first line, you remember, of the Sermon on the Mount from Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” – people who have worked out that they are needy, that they are helpless, and that they are sinful and they need a Saviour.
Some years ago I was standing near the wall just outside there and I was talking to the owner of the Union Hotel, Mark Manion and he said to me ‘By the way, I need to get one of my children baptised’. I said to him, ‘You should come to the ‘Christianity Explained’ Course’. So he came to the Course and I think on Week 2, I was explaining salvation, and I was explaining salvation as we often do as a rescue, as a surf rescue and I was explaining that if there is a surf rescue, it involves somebody putting up their hand and calling out ‘Help, help! I am dying!’. Then somebody comes and takes hold of the hand and brings you safely into to land. And I said – this is what it is like to be a Christian – you have to put your hand up and you have to put your prayer up and you have to ask Jesus to be your Saviour and then he comes and he saves you.
“We have to somehow make sure that our fellowship represents the gospel of grace.”
This is the desperate illustration that preachers use when they are trying to explain salvation but it works with some people. The next Tuesday night he walked in a little bit late and as he walked past my chair, I remember he leaned just slightly over and he whispered in my ear, ‘I put my hand up during the week’. And that’s where his Christian life began. ‘Please save me’ – he got saved. Poor in spirit. ‘Pease help me. I am needy. I am helpless. I am sinful. I have turned my back on you – would you please save me?’ That’s the people whom God saves and that’s the first step in becoming a Christian.
Now James says – if you know this, if you know this is how salvation works, if you know that ‘poor’ is a good place to be because it steers you to Jesus, well the last thing that you want to do when you are running your church and your fellowship and your gathering is to turn everything upside down and say ‘the poor go down there’ and ‘the rich go up’. When God says, ‘No, the rich, the proud rich, go down, and the humble poor go up’.
So we have to somehow make sure that our fellowship represents the gospel of grace. Now I don’t really need to hit you with this – this morning. I’m not pretending that there are people who don’t get this. I think one of the most wonderful things in this place is that they are many able people and they don’t walk around talking about how they are able but they do walk around talking about how God is gracious. And that’s exactly how it should be. So Remember God’s Son and Remember God’s Salvation – Jesus is glorious, salvation is gracious.
Remember God’s Command – Love Your Neighbour As Yourself
Thirdly (verses 8-11) – remember God’s command. Verse 8, ‘Keep the royal law’. The famous ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ which comes from Leviticus 19:18. What James is reminding us here is that we, friends, don’t actually have a choice. Our King has given us a command or a law which is that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. So you and I have to think about how to do that.
What would be the loving thing that I would want – that’s what I will try and do? God commanded his Old Testament people to love their neighbour as themselves – how much more should the New Testament community now that we have seen what love looks like in the person of Jesus and now that the Holy Spirit has come to make our hearts new – how much more should we love our neighbour as ourselves?
Friends, you just don’t get to do that by loving yourself. You don’t get to love your neighbour as yourself if you just think – what do I want to do? And you will notice that the command is a positive and a pro-active one. The secular world has a mantra that goes like this: “I never hurt anyone, I never harmed anyone”. “Why should you go to heaven one day?” “I never hurt anyone”.
“No”, God says – “I want love which is pro-active, which goes looking and paying and sacrificing.” That’s what God showed us. Jesus came – Jesus died and Jesus rose again. And when we put our trust in Him, the Holy Spirit comes and takes up residency in our heart and we begin to love with a pro-active and positive love for people. We are not perfect and we are not great at it but it’s begun. James is arguing here (verse 8) ‘if you do love your neighbour you do well but if you play favourites you have broken the law’. And he goes on to say if you have broken the law, well you sink your canoe don’t you? It only takes one hole to sink a canoe and if you break the law by being favouritist-type people – you break the law.
Now his illustration (verse 11) is an astonishing illustration – he says, look you may be steering clear of adultery and so you say to yourself, ‘I’m really good’ – but what if you are murdering? It’s an almost ludicrous illustration isn’t it? I would like the argument to be the other way. I would like James to say ‘OK you haven’t murdered anyone, yes we all agree that’s serious, but have you slept with somebody wrongfully because that will establish that you are a law breaker?’
But he doesn’t – he puts it around the other way. He says ‘OK you may not have slept with anybody wrongfully but you have (have you?) murdered someone – well you are a lawbreaker. And you can almost imagine people saying ‘No of course I haven’t murdered anybody’, but his point is ‘Do you not understand that if you think you are keeping the commandment of love but you are playing favourites, you break the law’.
Well we need to go back to the Word of God and we need to remember that it’s been given to us by a very great King and that when I gather with God’s people I don’t have a choice about being loving, patient or kind. It doesn’t come naturally to me but it is commanded and God by his grace is able to work it through us.
Remember God’s Judgment
And that brings me to the last point this morning – and that is verses 12-13 Remember God’s Judgment.
- Remember God’s Son
- Remember God’s Salvation
- Remember God’s Command
- Remember God’s Judgment
Verse 12 tells us we are going to be judged. This doesn’t mean that the Christian’s destination is going to be settled. That is [already] settled – Christ died for you and you are going to be with him. But it does mean that your reward is going to be settled for the stewardship of this new life that Christ has given to you. I will say that again – when you come to the Judgment Day and I will come to the Judgment Day and you will come to the Judgment Day a person who has put their faith in Jesus, their destination is not up for question. They are going to be with Christ. If they welcome Christ then they will be welcomed by Christ. But this Judgment Day is going to settle the reward of the Christian. We are going to be judged by the law (verse 12) that gives freedom.
This amazing sentence is a reminder that God gave his Law to his people in the Old Testament to liberate them. It was like giving them the road rules – this is how the road works. Now add to the law the fact that Christ has brought new life to us by dying on the cross for us and James says, there is going to come a day when God is going to meet you and he is going to see his people and he is going to see that they are spotless because Christ died for them but he is also going to see what fruit there is and if there is no fruit it doesn’t sound as if there is a life.
“For each of us the time is coming when we shall have nothing but God. Health, wealth, friends and hiding places will all be swept away and we shall have only God.” ~ A.W. Tozer
You see the argument? You are going to stand before your Saviour and you are going to stand before your Judge and if you have been merciless (verse 12-13) if you have shown no mercy, is that because you received no mercy? But great joy to the person who has shown mercy because it sounds as though you received it and it went through you. Someone has said that the question for today is ‘will you’ – will you follow Christ? – will you serve Christ? The question for tomorrow is going to be ‘did you’? Today – will you? On the last day – did you?
AW Tozer says in one of his little books:
“What we need very badly these days is a company of Christians who are prepared to trust God and obey God as completely now as they know they must do at the last. For each of us the time is coming when we shall have nothing but God. Health, wealth, friends and hiding places will all be swept away and we shall have only God. For the man of pseudo-faith this is a terrifying thought. But for the man of real faith it is one of the most wonderful thoughts of all.”
So I want to take you friends back to the big issue this morning which of the major part of Christianity is people and how we see them. Do we see them in the light of their face, (because if we do we may end up being discriminating, dismissive, judgmental and dishonouring to Christ) or do we see them in the light of God’s Word (which is therefore to be discerning and honouring to Christ, loving and demonstrating new life)? James gives us some wonderful helps so that we can deal with people as Christ deserves and as people need and those simple helps are:
- Remember God’s Son – He is glorious, everybody is to be seen in his light.
- Remember God’s Salvation – It’s by grace and everybody comes by grace.
- Remember God’s Command – Love your neighbour is not optional.
- Remember God’s Judgment – That’s where the new life is going to be seen.
I think these truths will set us free from many traps – they are not easy to remember but as you read back over the passage you might remind yourself of these four things which will help us to have an affection for one another as Christ has to us.
- Follow this series at Lessons From The Book of James — A ‘Christian Growth’ Series