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.

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