THE FOOLISHNESS OF FAVOURITISM!
The letter of James is considered to be one of the most practical books in the Bible – his teaching does not allow too much room for vague interpretations that can easy get lost in pious platitudes. However it would be a mistake to think that the letter of James is not theological – sometimes he has been accused of this.
The foundational verse of James’ letter is James 1:18 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (NIV)
This letter does major on the practical outworking of our faith but the underlying assumption upon which James builds is that God is sovereign and everything good – esp. our salvation – is a gift from God. James 1:17 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (NIV)
1:26-27 are link verses between Ch.1, which lays a foundation, and the rest of the letter which deals with care, speech and holiness!
For James, “to claim to have the life of God and to remain unchanged is unthinkable”. [Motyer]
In other words if your belief and your behaviour don’t match up then there is something wrong. He is dealing not only with individual belief and practice but also the belief and practice of the whole church!
An old Negro Christian “There are too sides to the gospel, a believing side and a behaving side!”
One of the first practical issue that he comes to deal with is favouritism or discrimination.
Let’s look first at verse 2-4 and we will come back to v.1 in a moment!
- FAVOURITISM: AN EXAMPLE [v.2 – 4]
James 2:2-4 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? (NIV)
The world of James’ day was made up of the same kind of people as there are in the world today – the ‘haves’ and the have nots’. The main difference is that in his day the ‘have nots’ were mostly slaves – but certainly not all – many were simply poor people. The gap between the rich and poor was very big and it was the rich who had the power – what’s changed!!
In our society at least there is a reasonably fair legal system and a social system that helps the poor – [that does not mean that there is no poverty in England] !
The illustration James gives is very clear – When a rich person comes to the church meeting he is given a prominent seat and when a poor person enters he is told to stand or sit on the floor.
This is blatant discriminatory behaviour – At a lesser level is happens in the classroom with Teacher’s pet, at its worst level it manifests itself in ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, in Hilter holocaust, in SA Aparthied …. at this level it can destroy nations.
When one child is favoured at the expense of another it can destroy families.
And when it happens in a Church it can destroy a congregation and that is why James is so hard on his readers. Favouritism and discrimination are destructive.
James is not saying that there is not room for treating some people differently – For example– it would be proper and right to offer a seat to an elderly person and to ask a younger person to sit on the floor if there are too few seats — It would be perfectly in order to seat an honoured guest – e.g. the Queen – while asking others to stand.
What James is on about is favouring one person over another purely on the basis that he or she is dressed better and thus is perceived to be of more worth. Such favouritism is flattery usually with the motive of gaining some benefit. Flattery is very subtle but it ends up deceiving the flatterer and the one being flattered.
— reveals contradictory behaviour
The NIV translates v4 as follows have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
This translation does seem to fit the context very well and nor does it reflect the Greek text very accurately.
It would seem that these two people who have walked into the church are strangers and that is why they are invited to be seated. Thus it would not be a discrimination amongst themselves but between to visitors.
Further and more importantly the phrase would fit better if it read … wavered/ been inconsistent within yourselves …. One of the main points that James is making in his letter is that as Christians we must be consistent. We can’t claim to be Christian on the one hand and then act like the worldly snob on the other hand. You can’t face both ways at once and that is the import of the text here.
— reveals corrupt motives
Not only is such behaviour inconsistent but it reveal the inner character that is corrupt. Why do people show favouritism? – is it not because there is an underlying motive? And that motive is invariably selfish – flattery usually has a price tag!
“Flattery is praise insincerely given for an interested purpose” [Henry Ward Beecher]
Many people know how to flatter but few know how to give genuine praise!
Verse 1 gives us the real reason why favouritism is wrong.
- FAVOURITISM IS INCONSISTENT WITH BELIEF IN CHRIST [v.1]
1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism.
My brothers – [a generic term referring to all Christian believers] –
Our whole faith teaches us that we should never be a snob in anyway – we have no reason to consider ourselves better than anyone else – if anyone ever had any reason to consider himself better than anyone else then it was Jesus himself. YET his glory was seen in the fact that he never judged people by outward appearance – he is the one to whom all glory is due AND he is also the one who set the standard as to how we are to treat others.
2 Corinthians 8:9 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (NIV)
If we claim to be believers then the question is, are we completely devoted to the Lord in the ups and downs of life? — does his glory come first on our value scale??
Or do we allow the standard and values of the world to dictate what is valuable and worth-while!
Lets face it – in the world in which we live most people are valued in economic terms – people are no longer customers – we are consumers – how much money can be made!! Profits become more important than people!!
This was the trap that James’ readers were falling into – and it is easy to fall into this even in the Church.
ILLUS.: Richie Rich is a good prospective members because if he joins the Church we could probably put on a new roof or build a new Hall!!
It happens – I have seen Church where a few wealthy families control the Church and there is a power block and the people are too afraid to say or do anything because – “What will happen to the Budget if Mr Rich leaves??!”
Not just about money —
ILLUS.: Church I was involved with when we where missionaries to the Asian Muslims in SA – Did not want any convert to come to the Church – come to visit as exhibits of their investment in missions but not as members because they were too different – “They need their own church!” – The disguise was what was good for them but the real reason was “We don’t want these Asian people in our Church!” HAPPILY NOT ALL MEMBERS AND NOT ALL CHURCHES WERE LIKE THIS!
We need to guard against such behaviour – it is easy to be resentful and stand-offish to newcomers because they are different and will change our church!!
When a Church begins to operate like this then it is acting contrary to the principles of the gospel and it reasoning is distorted and sinful. And far from Christ been glorified his name is dishonoured.
Peter and Cornielius – Cornielius told 1x – Peter 3x [vision]
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism (NIV)
- FAVOURITISM HAS LIMITED VISION [V. 6 – 7]
James 2:6-7 6 But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? (NIV)
We will come back to v.5 in a moment!
James’ readers were pandering to the rich and power.
Imagine the situation – a poor person has borrowed money from a rich person – in those day the repayment of the money could be demanded and if they were unable to pay then off to the debtors jail until they could pay –
See why James says to his readers – this are the ones exploiting you —
– taking you to court —-
– and by acting in this way they are dishonouring the name of Christ whom you claim to honour!
And what is more by favouring the rich in this way you are insulting the poor who in God’s eyes are of equal worth. The two visitors to the congregation [v.2-3] are seen only in the immediate context of their material possessions or lack of them. Whenever a church falls into this trap – if we fall into this trap we immediately exclude from our fellowship, our worship any whom we consider to be below our station.
James is talking about favouritism on the grounds of wealth but it can also manifest itself in other areas —
Education – “Did now she only went to ‘Scrap-through College!”
Social background – “Well I heard that he comes from the other side of the railway line – A bit of the old tar-brush I believe!”
Intellect – “She is a little bit slow!!”
Theologically we can play the same kind of games —
“She is a little bit TOO Charismatic when in actual fact she is alive spiritually and has an enthusiasm for Jesus that I lack – while I flounder around in my theological correctness!”
Is James saying that all the rich people are like this and have no place in the church – not at all!!!
But he is only echoing what Jesus said that it is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven because hits at their position and their pockets and their pride.
God’s way is contrary to the way of the world!
- FAVOURITISM IS NOT GOD’S WAY [v.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? (NIV)
ILLUS.: As a child I grew up in a street of 12 houses and their were in all about 35 kids – our street was next to the school playing fields and almost every afternoon we would gather there for some game or other. Two Captains would choose teams – always from the most athletic and competent down to the least able.
That is how human chose usually goes!
But God’s ways are not our ways – he is not impressed by wealth or position or education or ability.
God chooses the poor of this world – does that mean that he does not choose the rich? Not al all! We only have to look through scripture to see that God does choose the rich. Abraham was a wealthy man – so was Job! What of Joseph of Arimathea and Zacchaeus. But it is true that we need to search these out – remember what Paul said to the Corinthians 1 Corinthians 1:26
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. (NIV)
When James says that God chooses the poor – he does not mean that he never chooses the rich AND when he says that the rich exploit the poor and dishonour the name of Christ he does not mean they the poor never do BUT he is stating a general principle.
It is generally true that God’s concern is for those at the bottom of the world’s heap.
God chose Israel – slaves in Egypt and an insignificant group of people in the world of the time.
Time and time again we see how God rescues the poor and the stranger and the widows and orphans. He instructs Israel again and again to care for the poor, the oppressed and disadvantaged in society.
22 “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. (NIV)
Isaiah 1:17 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (NIV)
When Jesus was on earth – where was his heart – with the sinners and the tax-collectors and the poor and the prostitutes. It was these people who followed him – It was the rich and powerful who opposed him with very few exceptions.
If we would follow the Lord Jesus Christ then like him we must, for the most part be on the side of the poor, the underprivileged, the disadvantaged and the oppressed. WHY? Because we follow a theology of liberation or a social gospel? NO! All to often evangelicals have allowed the liberals to rob us of our social responsibilities. We must have this conviction because God is a holy God and he hates injustice!!
If God practised favouritism where would I be? where would you be?
If God choose people according to Wealth and social standing where would you and I be?
Listen again to Paul — 1 Corinthians 1:26-29
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no-one may boast before him. (NIV)
God does not show favouritism – his choice is without regard to gifts or goodness or anything else. This is abundantly clearly when we read Ephesians 1:4 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
ILLUS.: Spurgeon – “It is perfectly obvious that God chose me, because I would never have chosen him, and it is equally clear that he must have chosen me before I was born because he would not have chosen me afterwards!”
I know that God’s choosing is difficult to understand!
But I can hear someone saying, “But didn’t I choose God??” Yes and it was a free chose BUT only because in eternity past God had first chosen you.
BUT you say, “Don’t I have a free will?” YES!! But not in the sense that we are completely free because apart from God all people are captive to sin. BUT nevertheless we were able to choose God because God has made that chose possible.
There is a clear command in scripture for the unsaved to respond to God’s call – it is clear that people have a responsibility to exercise the will God has given them .
YET it is also clear that no-one responds to Christ who has not been chosen by God.
Jesus in John’s gospel puts both these truths in one sentence: 6 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.
God sovereignly elects AND people have a responsibility to exercise their chose – these two things may seem irreconcilable to our puny minds BUT what we must not do is try to pick one or the other NOR must we compromise to some kind of middle ground. Both of these are true – God does elect and people are responsible to believe in Christ – we must hold these two truths in tension.
Why did God chose us?? God’s election of Israel in the OT gives us insight into why God chooses.
7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (NIV)
Why did God chose Israel?? Because he loved them – WHY? Because they were better; stronger; more numerous than the other nations?? NO!! NO!! Because he loved them and because he chose to love them.
Why has God chosen us? Because we are better?? hardly!! Because we are more loveable?? NO! NO!
ILLUS.: “The story is told of a man who told his minister that he had difficulty understanding God’s statement: ’Jacob I loved and Esau and Esau I hated!’ (Rom.9:13) The minister agreed that the verse was difficult to understand and asked the man where his particular problem lay. He said ‘In the second half of course!’.
‘Well my difficulty has always been with the first part,’ the minister replied, ‘because I can’t possibly understand how God could love a crafty, dishonest scoundrel like Jacob’.”
Look at the reason God chose us! – to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him –
There are many who are rich in this world but poverty-stricken spiritually – Christian think of what you have received in Christ! Paul tells us that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ –
True riches are not measured in £ and pennies – What is your heavenly Bank account like – are you rich towards God. If you are a Christian then all the riches of heaven are yours – how do we know that — Romans 8:32 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (NIV)
That includes that present blessings and the future glory of heaven!!
Jesus who is rich in glory came to the poorest level so the we could be rich. If our faith is in him how then should we treat others!
V7 ends by referring to Christians as those who belong to the noble name of Christ –
The common marriage custom is that a woman takes her husband’s surname indicating an intimate, personal and permanent relationship – As Christians we take Christ’s name – how we behave reflects on him AND what belongs to him belongs to us!
God help us to live in such a way that our believing side and our behaving side match up!
THE FOOLISHNESS OF FAVOURITISM
James 2:1 – 7.
- FAVOURITISM: AN EXAMPLE GIVEN [v 2-4]
reveals contradictory behaviour
reveals corrupt motives
- FAVOURITISM SHOWS INCONSISTENCY [v 1]
with Christian Faith
with Christ’s example
- FAVOURITISM HAS LIMITED VISION [v 6-7]
it evaluates by distorted criteria
- FAVOURITISM IS NOT GOD’S WAY [v 5]
God’s choice is sovereign
for His glory
for our good
“Don’t ever attempt, my dear Christian sisters and brother to combine snobbery with faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” – James