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Worship Message - Living Out Our Faith, Part I, James Message #3

Living Out Our Faith, Part I
James Message #3

We are on a journey this summer through the New Testament Book of James. A book - a letter - containing teachings that are to guide us how to live in some significant parts of our lives, including what we talked about the past two messages, which is how to respond to the various trials in our lives. That is the subject of chapter 1 of James. And what we will talk about today and in the next message in this series, based on chapter 2, which is how to live out our Christian faith.

That topic is introduced in chapter 1 of James. In verse 22 of chapter 1, James teaches that we who are Christians are to be, not only hearers or readers of God’s word, but also doers of that word. Before that, James wrote about the importance of wisdom, which can be defined as knowing what is right to do, that knowledge coming from God’s word, then putting the knowledge into action. James further instructed that if any of us lack wisdom, all we need to do is ask God for it.

The topic of living out our Christian faith has already been introduced, that happening in chapter 1 of James. In chapter 2, he gives some specific examples of how to live our our faith. It is those examples we will consider in this message and the next one, including for today what is found in verses 1 through 13, which begins with the teaching, “My brethren [my fellow Christians] show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”

No partiality. Other translations have it that we are not to be respecters of persons. Both ways of wording it mean we are not to treat people differently based on things like social status, prestige, power, popularity, or wealth. As a scenario that follows explains it, we are not to show favoritism to those who are rich and powerful, thereby ignoring those who are poor and weak.

The scenario is in verses 2 through 4. Verse 2. “For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly…” Someone with nice clothes. Related to today, a suit and tie maybe. Some showy people back then, including men, liked to wear rings, doing so on most of their fingers. That was a display of wealth. More of a display when a man was able to wear more than one ring on each of his fingers. I read that some would go the extent of renting rings if they had to in order to at least pretend extreme wealth.

If such a man enters “your assembly and a poor man [or, for our day, a poor woman] in shabby clothing also comes in…” Someone not dressed well. Maybe not as clean as he or she should be.

If two such people enter your assembly, which, by the way, I read in one commentary refers not to a worship service necessarily, but probably to a business meeting-type activity. A meeting where a church’s policies are determined.

If two such people enter your assembly “and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’ [seat up front - a seat of honor], while you say to the poor man, ‘Stand there [as in out of the way] or sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” That, James implies, is wrong because, as stated throughout the Bible, God is the maker of all and treats all equally. For instance, Proverbs 22:2 in the Old Testament. “The LORD is the maker of all.” Romans 2:11 in the New Testament. “for God shows no partiality.”

Of course there are differences between people. But the only difference we should be concerned with are spiritual differences. As in whether the person is in a good relationship with God or not. Whether the person has accepted Jesus or not. Whether the person is doing his or her best, with the help of God, to have the wisdom needed to know what is right to do and then do it.
What is the heart like? What is the spiritual condition? That is the only way we are to differentiate people.

Which means that if a poor person is good spiritually, we must not value him or her any less because of poverty. And if a rich or powerful man is a bad man, we should not value his opinion as being greater just because of his good clothes or his influence.

Now, the call is not to be mean to whoever is not a Christian. James does not encourage rudeness or disorder in any assembly. Civil respect is to be given to all. But civil respect must never be allowed to determine the proceedings of a church in assigning offices or setting policies.

Again, the key is to look at the heart. We are to give benefits, not to those who are rich and powerful, based just on that, but to those who are right with the Lord, no matter their social standing.

Let me interject a couple thoughts here.

First, it seems to me that in our society today, there is developing a huge disgust toward people who are rich. Unless the rich person has wealth from sports or movies, it seems to me we are being taught the money is ill-gotten.

I think that is class envy or class jealousy that is being promoted for political reasons.. But my point is that some rich people today seem to be the targets of discrimination, which is just as wrong as favoring the rich. Societally, the intent of the person should be the criteria. I church, it is again the heart - the relationship with God - that is to be the basis of favor.

And this. The favoritism spoken against in James 2 has to do with wealth. Social status, prestige, power, and popularity are related to that. May I add one more? It comes from something I remember from my parents.

In their later years, they often watched the late-night news shows of that era. I remember one show they told me about. It seems an American had been arrested in a Southeast Asian country. The State Department had been trying to get the American released. Negotiations were not going well.

The news show had a State Department official on, along with a man - a mercenary-type man - who was determined he could get the American back if the government would just allow him to do so.

The mercenary-type man was angry. With his adrenaline rush, he spoke quickly, loudly, passionately.
The State Department official was much     quieter, refusing to answer some questions that I would guess he could not answer because of classified information.

My parents reported the mercenary-type man was obviously telling the truth and the State Department man was obviously lying. Why? Their assessment was based on how the two men talked. How they presented themselves.

I did not see the show, and it could very well be my parents’ assessment was accurate. But again, look at the heart - not the social status, not the prestige, not the power, not the popularity, not the wealth, not even the good speaking ability - of a person. For Christians, look at the person’s relationship with God, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit. Use that in determining how much importance a person is to have.

And think of it this way. In the early church, there were all kinds of people who were Christians. Young and old. Rich and poor. Slave and free, master and slave. Jew and Gentile. If the early church was to survive, there had to be equality - spiritual equality. The rich could not be treated any better than the poor. The poor could not be treated any better than the rich. That was important back then. It is still important now.

And by the way, James is not the only one who taught to show no partiality.
As already mentioned, that is also found in the Old Testament Book of Proverbs and in the New Testament Book of Romans. It was also taught by Paul in Ephesians 6, in which he wrote, “Do the same to all, knowing that the Lord is the master of slave and free alike [the master of all who are Christians], and with Him [with the Lord] there is no partiality.”

It was taught by Peter as well. In Acts 10, Peter preached that he perceived “God shows no partiality.”

And Jesus displayed the teaching to show no partiality. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, some people who were questioning Jesus admitted they knew He did not “regard the position of men.” That was evident in His actions and His teachings. He taught whoever would listen. He healed whoever asked for that miracle. Jesus’ actions and teachings most certainly displayed His lack of partiality.

“If a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘Stand there or sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” If that happens, it is showing partiality, which, James and many others taught, is wrong.

Concerning the poor, James asked in verse 5, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him?” One example of that is recorded in Luke 4. Jesus said He had been “anointed to preach good news to the poor.” Verse 6. “But you have dishonored the poor man when you have shown partiality to the rich.”

And “is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?”

Now, not all rich people oppress. I hope rich Christians did not and do not abuse people. But in society when James ministered, the rich often did oppose the poor, dragging them to courts to recover debt. The word “drag” means grabbing the poor by the neck of the robe, choking him, and literally dragging him to courts. All that with no sympathy.

James’ point was that if that is how the rich - the non-Christian rich - behave, why would they be honored?

And v. 7. “Is it not they who blaspheme that honorable name which was invoked over you [the name of Jesus]?”

Again, not all rich people blaspheme. I hope rich Christians did not and do not blaspheme. But blaspheming did come from some rich slave owners who could not stomach the teaching that their slaves were equal. Not agreeing with that teaching of God and Jesus about spiritual equality was an example of blasphemy.

Show no partiality. That is one way to live out the Christian faith. A very important way because, as James continues, breaking that teaching is serious. “If you show partiality, you commit sin.” That is serious stuff.

As serious as it is to violate any other teaching in the Bible, including violations it is easy to consider worse.

For instance - this is in verse 11 - we are not to commit adultery. Neither are we to commit murder.

Of course, murder is considered more serious, but according to James, if you avoid murder but commit adultery, you are still “a transgressor.”

Likewise, both murder and adultery seem to be more serious than the law stated in verse 8 to “love your neighbor as yourself,” but a break of one law, including breaking the law of loving your neighbor, is considered, in God’s eyes, the same as the breaking of any other law.

Therefore, if you show partiality to rich or poor - especially if you are poor, you do not want to be treated worse - but if you show partiality, you are a transgressor and can be convicted by God.

The challenge is to not break any of the laws of God because to break even one of God’s laws is to be a transgressor.

And what does that have to do with living out our Christian faith? The challenge is to prove our faith by keeping the whole law. What James describes as “royal law” in verse 8 and, in verse 12, the “law of liberty.”
“Royal law” means it was given by the King of Kings. It is more important than any earthly law. It is the law we, God’s people, must obey.

The “law of liberty” means the royal law is based on the will of God, and it gives the liberty - the freedom - to please God rather than self.

Therefore, for today, welcome the rich, the important, the popular, but welcome everyone else, too. Treat everyone well, but judge them - favor them - if they are right with God. Make the condition of the heart the factor in showing honor.

I have a sad story to share in this message. A story of James 2 being disobeyed. A disobedience that caused a great spiritual tragedy.

It has to do with Mahatma Gandhi who, as a young man from India, studied in Britain. He attended college there.

Gandhi grew up in the Hindu religion in India. One teaching of that religion that especially attracted him is non-violence. However, Hinduism had virtually nothing to address the problem of India’s caste system, which greatly bothered him.

In Britain, Gandhi came in contact with the Christian faith. One thing that especially appealed to him about the Christian faith was the teaching of equality. As discussed earlier, much of the New Testament teaches equality. One to add is what Paul wrote in Galatians 3. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Equality. That appealed to Gandhi. It was, to him, the perfect answer to issues of class separation. So it was that when he went from Britain to South Africa to begin work as a lawyer, one Sunday he decided to attend a Christian church service.

At that time, South Africa practiced apartheid, which was a policy of racial inequality. So it was that when Gandhi arrived at the church and saw, toward the front of the sanctuary, nice pews, he, who was dark-skinned, was stopped near the door. The usher pointed to an area of open floor at the back. The usher told Gandhi he could sit or stand there.

When Gandhi said he would prefer a seat in one of the pews, he was told by the usher that the pews were for white people. People of color had to be at the back to sit or stand. The usher reportedly added, “If you don’t like that, go worship with your own people.”

Gandhi had two thoughts. One, if Christians cannot or will not practice what the Bible teaches, he wanted no part of them. Two, if Christians also have caste or class differences, he might as well remain a Hindu.

Now, Gandhi had simply gone to that church to try it out. He may or may not have, that day or ever, decided to become a believer in Jesus. And it is certainly not my place to judge that usher or the church in which the usher served. But this seems to be a sad illustration of what can happen when James 2 is disobeyed.

With Gandhi, showing partiality was tragic. It turned away a man who became a great leader of his nation of India. I wonder what might have happened if Gandhi had based his leadership on Christian principles rather than Hindu principles.

Similar tragedies can still happen. So may we be determined to show no partiality. May we treat all people well, showing favoritism based, not on wealth, popularity, power, prestige, social status, or speaking ability, but on how close a person is to the Lord.

And how about this? For those who are not close to the Lord, be they rich or poor, influential or weak, how about we do what we can to help them get close to the Lord? One way of doing that is for us to show no partiality based on things important in the world. Another way is for us to grow in knowing and doing all of the royal law - the law of liberty - taught by God.

Today’s closing song is the hymn A Charge to Keep I Have. We do have the charge to live out our Christian faith. Let’s sing the song as a reminder to do just that.

A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save, and fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill,
O may it all my powers engage To do my Master’s will!

Arm me with jealous care, as in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare, a strict account to give!

Help me to watch and pray, and on Thyself rely,
Assured if I my trust betray I shall forever die.

May we be committed to showing no partiality based on things like social status, prestige, power, popularity, wealth, or speaking ability. Instead, let’s look at the heart - at the spiritual condition - of other people. And may we know that the teaching to show no partiality is just as important as every other teaching from God. Let’s continue to work on obeying every part of God’s royal law, which truly is the law of liberty. Amen.

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