Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Sin of Favoritism, James 2:1–9

In Luke 16:19–31, Jesus told a story, not a parable--but story, of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Here's Jesus' story:

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

Why is this story important? Why do we need to read what James has to say about favoritism? Because many of us would have acted like the rich man when we saw Lazarus. Many of us do. You too. In fact, we would have paid more attention to the rich man, if we're honest, than to Lazarus, the poor disheveled man laying by the gate. James calls that "sin!"
Here's what James says on the same topic:

“My brothers, do not have partiality in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory. For if a man enters into your synagogue with a gold ring and bright clothing, and a poor man enters in filthy clothes, and you show special respect to the one who wears bright clothing and say, ‘Here, you sit in the best seat and to the poor man you say, ‘You stand there or sit by my feet.’ Have you not been judged by yourselves and become judges of evil reasoning? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen the poor of the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love Him? But you dishonor the poor. Is it not the rich who exercise power over you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the good Name that was called upon over you? If you really fulfill the royal law according to Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well, but if you show partiality you yourselves sin, and are exposed as violators of the law.”[1]

The first thing James says is that we must resist the urge to show favoritism to the powerful (v. 1–4). James instructed the audience not to show favoritism to the wealthy oppressors and so dishonor the poor. (v. 1–7). So he says, "Don’t show favoritism.”
What does it mean to resist the urge to show favoritism to those who oppress us? The people were being oppressed, and so honoring the rich oppressors out of fear.
To resist showing favoritism doesn’t mean you shouldn’t love and witness to those who mistreat you, or you should ignore those who take advantage of you. See verses 2 and 3 above again in James 2. Picture the story taking place in First Baptist Darlington, during a church service when you read it. It' s almost unbelievable. Except in Baptist churches they would probably put the poor person in front, since that's where no one wants to sit; otherwise it would be equally tragic.

To resist showing favoritism means:
You should love the person who can’t do anything for you, as if they were the wealthy and powerful. See that James says in verse 5 the wealthy were also the ones exploiting the people, dragging them into court, and slandering the Name of Jesus. These people showed favoritism to their rich oppressors and blasphemers. Why? To earn favor. Out of fear. What is favoritism? It is not helping people try and fit in, helping people realize their need for Christ and trust Him.
When I was in high school, a kid a couple of grades younger than I was usually sat alone at the lunch table. A couple of times I sat next to him during lunch, even though it was my senior year, I was in band, football, NHS member, and had been in baseball, so could have sat anywhere. I left all those other crowds to sit by this guy. I had no idea how much that meant to him until later on, and he eventually became president of a youth group of about 150 senior high students. I didn't know how much sitting by him meant until he wrote a note to me in the yearbook, "thanks for always sitting by me in lunch. It really made a difference." (something like that).

Fear as a motivation always leads to suffering without rewards.
When we disregard the poor, we dishonor the poor. In the context of suffering for what is good, you lose the reward when you suffer for what is not good. If you're in a situation where you find yourself 1 Pet 2:19–20, says, "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God, but how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing wrong and endure it, this is commendable before God."

Someone would come into the church in James' audience, persecuting Christians, and Christians, out of fear, would favor those people! What does it look like not to show favoritism? It means Love the one who hugs you, as much as the one who hates you; favor the person who is merciful as much as the one who shows no mercy; show love to the one who can't help you as much as the one who can; show love to the one who looks up to you the same way you show love to the one who you look up to.

Proverbs 25:26 says that when a righteous person gives way to the wicked, it is like muddy water or a polluted well. If an unrighteous and powerful person approaches me, and I give into them, I am like a polluted well or muddy river--so are you if you follow Jesus and are righteous in God's sight. All the while someone is being left out.

Secondly, we must resist the urge also to show dishonor the poor (v. 5–7)
“You have insulted the poor.” We must resist the urge also to dishonor the poor. What does it mean? Insulting the poor means to regard those who have less money as if they had less value.
Question: Is value in God’s eyes measured by money? Possessions? How does God determine the value of a person’s work? By what they do for God! V. 5, It is the poor who will inherit the kingdom of heaven.

This is a message the church James addressed needed to hear, and it is a message the church today needs to hear! We get so caught up in the rat race of life we wake up one day and we are not honoring the ones Jesus tries to save, but honoring those who can do something for us, and there needs to be a change.
As a student at Moody Bible Institute, a couple times as a security officer (part time job I was glad to quit), someone would find a homeless man who was dead, and no one could be found who would care for the person. It wouldn't make the news, and no one aside from us who had to "clean up the mess" knew this person had passed. No family, no friends, and the message that was communicated was "nobody cares about this person!" The church should care. We care for all those who don't have family or friends, who have needs because Jesus cares for them.

Jeremiah said, "send me your orphans . . . your poor . . . your widows; I will care for them." Deuteronomy 15 shows how God's people on earth should make certain that no one is without. God’s intent was that no one should be poor! Deuteronomy 15:4–11 (READ IT) Jesus restated this intention! Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor . . .” Some people short circuit the system of providing for the poor by taking more than what they need and abusing the system. Some short circuit it by not allowing the truly needy to partake. We who are God's should give freely, because it was freely given to us.

I heard an example of dishonoring the poor from a Georgia man I met. I told how a poor man came to a church one Sunday, wearing his best clothes, which were his t-shirt and holey jeans. Everyone else was dressed in a coat and tie, fancy dresses, and the only seat available was one seat in the front row. He stood out, and attracted the attention of the preacher. Finally the preacher stopped mid-sermon and said, "Sir, do you know what the dress code is at this church?" "No sir," replied the visitor. The preacher said, "I want you to go home and ask God what the dress code is at this church." The man sheepishly stood and walked out of the service. The preacher continued preaching. The next Sunday the same man visited, wearing the same clothes, sitting in the same place, and mid-sermon the preacher couldn't concentrate anymore. He stopped again, irritated, and said, "Sir, didn't I tell you last week to go home and ask God what the dress code is at our church?" The visitor, obviously embarrassed, replied, "Yes, sir, you did." "Then why are you dressed the same way as last week?" The man composed himself and replied, "Preacher, I asked God what the dress code of this church was, and God said he didn't know; He's never been to this church before."

Hopefully we don't treat people that way. God welcomed the beggar Lazarus into Abraham's bosom. Jesus told the thief who belonged on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise." We should be where people can come when they can't come anywhere else. There are problems in the church, but there are problems in the world too. The difference is we know we have problems and we're trying to fix them. There are problems here because everyone who has trouble comes here, and tries to find hope in God. Rightly so.

God’s church is on the earth so that those who can’t help themselves have assistance. God’s plan is that, even at our own expense, we honor those who are poorer than we are.
We must resist the urge also to dishonor the poor.
Lev 19:15, “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.”

Thirdly, we must love everyone as we would love ourselves (v. 8–9). “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.” We must love everyone as we love ourselves. Look at the intense phrasing of "really keep the royal law."
James instructed the audience to love their neighbors as themselves, without partiality/favoritism, and so do well (key term). (v. 8–9)
What does it mean to love others as I love myself? Look at the progression in James: Don’t become part of the system of oppression and domination: that’s power over others. Don’t enable that. Second, give honor to those who, being poor, live for God. Ultimately: Love better than others.
It means:
If you want someone to notice and honor you, then notice and honor others.
If you want someone to hug you when you’re sad, give someone a hug who is discouraged.
If you want someone to respect you in public, respect others
If you want someone to call you, write letters, email, ask how you’re doing, then do that first!
If you want someone to help you financially if you get into trouble, then help others with what you have.
Showing favoritism to someone prevents someone else from receiving love or attention they need. All followers of Jesus love their neighbors as themselves. This fulfills the royal law, see 1:25, “law of liberty,” freedom to love! In Jesus Christ, we have the ability to break out of any bondage; including the ability to:
Receive love from Him. Give love to others because of Him
Warning of sin: v. 9, “But if you show favoritism you sin, and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” This is the sin of favoritism. We must resist the urge to show favoritism to the powerful, to dishonor the poor, and we must develop an urgency to love others like we love ourselves.
Application: If you are showing favoritism, it is a sin.
It means literally, “You yourselves sin, and are exposed as violators of the law.”
Favoring anyone for anything exposes a lack of love towards someone else and God hates it! Sin!
So, repent of each instance before God.
Favoritism might be because of: wealth, power, popularity, race, gender, ability/disability.
“We must love others as we love ourselves.”

If we as believers began to love others like we love ourselves, not just what is good enough, we would change our community over night. Then we would change the world.
We must resist the urge to show favoritism to the powerful, the urge to show dishonor to the poor, and we must love others as we love ourselves.
The greatest expression of loving others as we love ourselves and showing no favoritism is when Jesus died on the cross, letting His life be taken so He could take ours, rising again with all power from the dead. If you feel like you are that person in rags, poor, helpless, the great news is Christ has shown you the love you need. You can believe and get out of the rut you're in. God changes people.

[1] My translation.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

James 1:26–27, "Pure and Faultless Religion"

Tim Bowden, in his book One Crowded Hour, describes an incident in Borneo in 1964. Nepalese fighters known as Gurkhas were asked to help fight in the war, specifically if they would be willing to jump out of airplanes into combat against the Indonesians. The Gurkhas replied that they would, only asking that the plane fly slowly over a swampy area and no higher than 100 feet. When they were told that they would not have enough time to deploy their parachutes at 100 feet, the Gurkhas replied, "Oh, you didn't mention parachutes before!"
That's devotion.
Elizabeth Elliot told of her first date with her husband Jim, which was a missions meeting at Moody Church in Chicago. One of the speakers was a daughter of the famous missionary to Africa, C. T. Studd. C. T. Studd gave up a pro Cricket career in order to serve the Lord in Africa. The daughter told of her father's final moments. He lay on a cot, gazing around the little hut and at his few possessions. "I wish I had something to leave to each of you," he said to his family. Then he concluded with these words: "But I gave it all to Jesus long ago."[1]
That's devotion.

Devotion, by one definition, means, “ardent, often selfless affection or dedication, to a person or a principle.”
Devotion according to Webster means, “a religious exercise or practice other than the regular corporate worship of a congregation; the act of devoting (devotion of time and energy); the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal." [2] (ardent = “eager, zealous”)
James writes in verses 26–27 about "religion," using a form of the word three times in two verses. What is the topic he's trying to get across? Religion.
When you hear “religion” it means devotion. James says, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Starting in verse 26, James describes pure and faultless religion or devotion. This is important for every believer. Why? We were created to glorify God, and are left on earth after salvation so that we can reach others and grow in our walk with Christ. Devotion is a large bone in the skeleton of Christian faith.
On that note, James says first, Pure and Faultless religion is devotion with our words (v. 25)
There is a reason James devotes a verse to this type of devotion, and splits the other two in one verse. If anyone believes he is religious and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this religion is in vein. The verb for "bridle" means "to bridle something” such as with animals, horses, etc. The word for "deceives" means just that, “to deceive, mislead.”[3] It was used in 1 Tim 2:14, “and it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”
So religion equals devotion. Some of us are passionate; some of those who have a passion for God are also devoted to Him. There is a difference.

David Brainerd was a missionary to the Native American people during the time of Jonathan Edwards, in the 1700's. He told Edwards, "I do not go to heaven to be advanced but to give honor to God. it is no matter where I shall be stationed in heaven, whether I have a high seat or a low seat there . . . My heaven is to please God and glorify Him, and give all to Him, and to be wholly devoted to His glory."[4]
The first part of pure and faultless religion is this: devotion to God with what we say. In other words, James says to bridle your tongue. Put some reins on it. Have you met someone who controlled what they said, didn't talk badly about others, and would never lose control of their temper? People who are devoted to God have control over what they say.

I remember reading an epitaph, which is on a grave in England somewhere. It says:
"Beneath this stone, a lump of clay,
Lies Arabella Young.
Who on the twenty-fourth of May,
Began to hold her tongue."

If you fit this description, you might need to work on controlling your tongue:
- you frequently or regularly find yourself waiting for someone to leave the room before you speak.
- your kids know your friends' secrets
- your kids' friends know your friends' secrets
- you find yourself suddenly in great animosity around a certain person, and then realize it was for no reason at all . . . wait, maybe that's the guilt of having talked about them when they weren't around.
The main idea is back in v. 22, don’t say it and not do it. Be doers! Faith that works! Later in 2:12 James will tell us to speak and acts as those who will be judged by freedom (grace). An unbridled tongue can mean also that we say things that don't match what we should believe.

We must devote our words to God first of all.
Secondly, not only should our tongues, words, mouths, and all forms of speaking be devoted to God, but we should devote our actions towards others to God (v. 26).
Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father includes taking care of orphans and widows, and keeping oneself pure from the world.
What does it mean? The verb used here meaning “to purify,” means “undefiled.” It is used also in Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled, for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” How do you know if your practice of faith is pure and undefiled? The answer is: How well do you control your tongue, how often do you assist needy orphans or widows, and how stained are you by the world.
In case the inquiring mind wishes to know, "orphan" means “being deprived of parents; being without parents.”[5] The word for widow means here "a woman whose husband has died.”[6]
What does taking care of them in their distress mean? It means a time of need. "Distress” is “trouble that inflicts distress; oppression, affliction, tribulation.”[7]
Defending Orphans and Widows sums up the way God always intended to meet social needs—through the compassion of His people.
Orphans and Widows are near to God’s heart because they are needy. In this culture, income and earnings were possible by two general methods:
1) a man in the family worked,
2) a woman sold herself into slavery or prostitution or both.
You can see then, the reason that it was very important for God's people to help prevent tragedy when a woman's husband died, especially if he was the only capable male in her life. You can also see why a devoted follower of Jesus helps not just widows but orphans, for they too would be left as victims of slavery or worse.

Look at what God says in his Word about the need to defend orphans. He cares about children without parents (could also apply today to children from broken home or with absentee parents).
1. Exodus 22:22–23, “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all and he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear His cry.”
2. Proverbs 29:14, “If a king judges the poor with truth, his throne will be established forever.”
3. Proverbs 31:9, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and the needy.”
Look in the same way at widows. This could also apply to elderly who have no one, whether shut in or forgotten. The command is to “plead the case of the widow,” or to see that she gets what she needs.
1. Deuteronomy 10:18, "He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.”
2. Isaiah 10:1–2, “Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions; so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights, so that widows may be their spoil, and that they may plunder the orphans.”
I love this third verse. Take comfort, all who lack parents or who are elderly and alone!
3. Jeremiah 49:11, (the Lord speaking) “Leave your orphans behind, I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in Me.”
4. Psalm 68:5, “A father to the fatherless, and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy mountain.”
5. Psalm 146:9, “The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widows, but He thwarts and way of the wicked.”
See how God has a heart for those in need! If you are a part of the Church, we need to show the world the heart of God.
James reminds us of this: How does God measure our devotion to Him? Our devotion to others, namely those who cannot help themselves, and who can never repay us for helping them. Later on, James will apply this same principle to how we treat the wealthy or powerful and mistreat the poor.
The third item of pure and faultless religion is devotion in my actions towards myself (v. 27)
People who are devoted to God keep themselves undefiled from the world
I read a book by Sam Harris entitled Letter to a Christian Nation, in which part of his argument is against Christianity because we care about sexual purity and a standard of personal morality; as opposed to caring solely for world hunger, the environment, world peace, or AIDS. Christians care about all of those things as much, but what Harris missed was how God has always demanded purity of His people. It's not that God is mean or a drill instructor, but God is the definition of holiness and righteousness. Sin, unholiness, unrighteousness--these all are wrong because they are against the character and commands of God. If God were any of those things, they would not be wrong (does that make sense?). He can't have those things in His presence because of Who He is, not because of arbitrary commands and laws. So since the best thing we can do is to be like Him, then the best thing we can do is to change our lives to reflect god-likeness (Godliness), and Christ-likeness.
The third and final way to practice pure and faultless religion is to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Hey ya'll, this is tough! Easy to say, tough to do! Do you know anyone who lives a sinless life? Me either. George Sweeting said, "We can never be sinless, but we must always sin less." That is sanctification in a nutshell.

James says we are to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world. The word means, “being of highest quality and without defect; spotless.”[7]
The principle is described in Ephesians 5:25–27, as we're given a peek into what Jesus desires in His bride, the Church, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless."
Piece of cake! Yesterday! Are there stains on you? Wrinkles? Will Jesus need to pull you aside and iron you a bit? Is the wedding dress white? It's a life long goal, one day at a time. The key question is "Are you more pure than you were yesterday?"
Dear reader, please stop now. Especially if you're skimming really fast and need to hurry. Five minutes never hurt anyone. Ask yourself and God a question in light of verse 27 and the previous verse 21, "Is there a stain on me from the world? Music I shouldn't have listened to? Pictures or videos I shouldn't have watched? Words I shouldn't have said, and need to make right? Money or things that I have that aren't mine?" Verse 21 said, "Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you" (we covered this is situational not eternal salvation. If you missed that, see the same word for salvation used in Matthew's Gospel for healing the sick).

What do I do if there is a stain in my life? 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from most of our unrighteousness?" NO. "ALL unrighteousness." Confess it to Him.
On that note, how are you doing altogether? I get the privilege to mull this over for at least a week before preaching it. I found some stuff I'm working on, and still find stuff. Confess to God, and if someone else was offended, own that stuff. Confess it.
If you discover you were the one offended, and the opposite party is either gone or refuses to make it right, forgive them. Forgiveness is God's bolt cutter that releases us from our ball and chains in life. Think of how Jesus said on the cross, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do." He was innocent, still is, and yet cruelly abused and killed for our sin. But He rose on the third day and has remained alive since, so that all who believe in what He did can have eternal life. The Bible says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved." Do you believe? Why not. Make that decision now and enter a life of pure and faultless devotion to God.
There's no close second to a life lived for God.

[1] Taken from, 12:40pm, 4/18/09. Originally from Our Daily Bread, January 30, 1994 and Elizabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity, p. 43.
[2] Taken from, at 8:50am, 4/17/09. Second definition from, 8:54am, 4/17/09, Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online, s.v.
[3] BDAG, s.v. All Greek definitions taken from Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, eds., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). This reference is the most popular and is commonly abbreviated BDAG for the initials of the four editors (Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich). S.v. is an abbreviation meaning the cited definition appears under the word if you were to look it up.
[4] Taken from, 12:30pm, 4/18/09. Originally from Our Daily Bread, November 19, 1997.
[5] BDAG, s.v.
[6] BDAG, s.v.
[7] BDAG, s.v.
[8] BDAG, s.v.