Have you ever thought to yourself, what can I do to make a difference? What can I possibly do to put a godly mark on this world? When there are billions of billions of people in the world, when leaders of the nation or leaders in industry or fashion yield so much power, and when I seem to have so little power - do you ever think what good can I possibly do?
Let me tell you about one Church I read about whose actions made a profound difference. When Matatma Gandhi was attending university in London he almost became convinced that Christianity was the one true faith, that it was the only way to God. He began reading his Bible and to seek after God. So one day he went to the nearby Church. He had decided to see the minister and ask for instruction in the way of salvation. But when he entered the Church the ushers refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go and worship with his own people. Gandhi left and never came back. He was later to say in his autobiography, "If Christians have caste differences also, I might as well remain a Hindu." (Repeat)
What a tragic story. Can you imagine what an impact Gandhi could have made for the gospel in India and the world if he had been converted? But one Church, one church family who should have shown him love and acceptance and care, one Church family who had the chance to make a profound difference to the history of the world blew their chance, by not living out their faith. They blew their chance by treating people differently, by having castes.
Friends we as Christians can have a tremendous impact, positively or negatively, on the world around us. But it is more likely to be the little things that make the big impressions. For the little things speak loudly to those who are affected by them. For people are looking to us, to us as individuals, to us as the Church, to see if the Christian faith works.
Which is why the apostle James turns to what seems like a little thing next in his letter. And he tells us that if we show favouritism to the people around us, then that is the equivalent of murdering someone. That's amazing isn't it? If we have a caste system within the Church then we are a Church of murderers. That’s why James says "My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favouritism!”
Imagine that we were at Church today and a uni student from a wealthy family came in. Trendy clothes. Designer stubble. Good looking and plenty of confidence. And at the same time a homeless person also rocked up in shabby clothes, smelly breath, and with an air of desperation. Would we treat them any different? Would we talk to one and ignore the other? Actually would we ignore them both? Do we have a caste system at Sunday @ 6?
But it’s not just about wealth? What if two women came in one Aussie and the other Chinese? Or two couples one straight, the other gay? Or two girls one wearing a burkah and the other without? Or two strangers one young, one old? Would we treat them differently?
Now let’s be honest here. It is easier to relate to someone who is more like you than someone who is very different to you. But this is more than just relating, its prejudice. Its friendliness. Its making all people feel at home amongst the people of God. And James says in verse 4 we are not to judge people by outward appearances. That is such an unhelpful way of doing things. And when we do judge people we must not use evil thoughts, we must not judge the way that the world judges. We need to do so the way God looks at us.
Life Magazine did a photo essay a few years ago – they took people from all walks of life, from street people to top executives and photographed them each undressed except for a bath towel – the amazing thing was you really could not tell who was who: for they all basically looked the same!
This is the way we come to Jesus – naked with nothing to offer, and at that point Jesus accepts us, from the poorest to the richest, he accepts us in the very same way. He loves us, he forgives us our faults, he gives us his Holy Spirit, and he lifts us up to be a child of the King of all kings! And then he calls us to accept all people in the same way. To not show favouritism. Why? Well James give us three good reasons
Slide 7 We need to remember God’s nature. God doesn’t show
favouritism. (verses 5-7) Verse 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?” God hasn’t just chosen the rich. God doesn’t just look at outward appearances. God doesn’t judge by externals. The Old Testament is full of examples where God has a special love for the alien, the widow, the orphaned, for those who are on the fringes of society. We see that in the OT in Deuteronomy 10 "For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing."
Or this in Proverbs 22:2 “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all." In the New Testament we read that once we come into God’s kingdom there is “no Jew or Greek, slave nor free, male or female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” And Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1, 26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.Not many of you were wiseby human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.27 But God chosethe foolishthings of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.28 God 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.”
It’s not what’s on in the outside that counts, it is what is on the inside. I was reading this week a sermon by a guy called David Yarborough who said this... “When I was in Bible College I met an interesting young man by the name of Shannon. What made him interesting was his looks. His hair was a different color each week, his ears were loaded with earrings, and he wore the big loose grunge style clothing. But the most interesting point of style was his shorts, and he always wore shorts regardless of the weather. What made his shorts so odd was the way he wore them. You see he always wore his shorts backwards. As you could imagine anyone who dressed like that at a Bible College stuck out like a sore thumb. One day I couldn’t stand it any longer and my judgmental sarcasm got the best of me and I had to make a crack about his shorts. To my surprise he was ready for my criticism. Shannon turned to me and said, “I’ll tell you … why I wear my shorts backwards…. God turned my life around so fast that my shorts couldn’t keep up. “
Friends God might be doing something in the life of that person who looks different to you. God might be doing something inside the poor man or even the rich man. So don’t play favourites. Listen to what James goes on to say in verse 6, the poor person who is a Christian actually has true riches. They are richer than the well to do businessman. Beside it is often the rich that are attacking the Church. They are threatened that a growth in the things of God might overturn their place in society. They are used to throwing their weight around. They expect you to curry favours with them.
So don’t try and get in the rich people’s good books, try and get in God’s good books. Don’t try and be like the rich. Try and be like God. And so don’t judge others by outward standards. Make sure you treat everyone equally and you don’t play favourites.
In the words of the preacher James Boice, “...In the perspective of Christ we are all poor; we are all under privileged; we are all nobodies who only by his grace have become somebody in responding to the gospel? We of all people ought to go to those who have no stature in this world’s eyes so that as the gospel is preached and they respond to it they might find stature before God” But does that mean we are to play a sort of reverse favouritism where we look after the poor and not the rich. No not at all for not only should we remember God’s nature but
We need to remember God’s law. The law of love.James
continues in v 8 “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself, you are doing right. But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the laws as lawbreakers.”
We are not called to pander to the rich and ignore the poor. Nor are we to love the poor and ignore the rich. We are to love both rich and poor, both black and white, both young and old, both moral and immoral. Because the royal law, the law that comes from the king of kings and the Lord of lords is about loving all people as you love yourself.
So which law is James talking about? The law found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy? The 10 commandments? Or the whole of the Old Testament, for they are all referred to as God’s law at one time or another? Well I think James is referring to all of the above. Jesus summarised the 10 commandments as “Love God and love your neighbour.” The law in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy actually quotes those words, “Love your neighbour as yourself”. And the whole of the Old Testament echoes the fact that you can’t be obedient to God without having his love affect your life. If you want to be a follower of God you don’t love self, you love others as self.
Which means that when we play favourites we are not loving people. We are pandering to our own wants and needs. So we might give a rich man a special seat because we want to use his influence, his power, his status on our situation. And we might ignore the poor person because we think we are better than them and we are afraid that if we hang around that sort of person, their lowly status might rub off on us!
So the example that James has given about how we treat people in Church actually comes to the heart of God’s commandments. He is saying there is no such thing as a hierarchy of sins. We can’t say “I’m pretty good, I’ve never stolen, or killed someone but sometimes I’m racist!”
For what James is saying is that if we break one commandment, like showing favouritism, it is like we are breaking every command. If we lie, it is the equivalent in God’s eyes of committing murder. If we ignore someone it is the same as committing adultery. Now hang on. That’s a bit steep isn’t it? Murder has huge implications. Adultery can wreck families. While showing favouritism, or ignoring someone that might only have minor implications. Well it didn’t have minor implications to Gandhi did it? And sometimes those little sins set off a domino effect that lead to bigger, far reaching sins. But in the end James is not talking about implications, in a court of law murder will always be worse than manslaughter. Theft’s penalty more than defamation. But James is saying that when you break the law, you break your relationship with the law giver. When you sin, you are no longer righteous but a sinner. When you do the wrong thing, no matter what you are doing you are turning your back on the one who gave you life and who gives you the law as a guide to life. So if we stumble on one law, we are guilty of breaking the whole lot.
That seems harsh doesn't it? But you see God's law is more like a sheet of glass than a pile of stones. Let me explain what I mean. We could take one stone from a heap of rocks and still leave the heap intact. But when we throw a brick through a window, it strikes only one part of the glass but it fragments the whole sheet. The law of God is like the glass, if you break it at one point, it will affect all the other points because a broken relationship with God will affect every part of your life.
Sin is sin. You may say there are little sins and big sins, but God doesn't see it like that. And so if we show favouritism, if there are castes in the Christian church then we are as good as murderers and so we will need God's forgiveness, we will need God's grace, we will need God's mercy as much as someone that is in Long Bay prison for murder and rape. So we are not to play favourites because God doesn’t play favourites, because God’s law is all about love and lastly because
The law is all about mercy not judgement. Verse 12 and 13,
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement.” Now there are a lot of strange words and concepts in those two verses even for us Church goers. Let me start with one. A law that gives freedom! Don’t laws stop you from doing stuff? Where’s the freedom in that? Well let’s think about some of the so called options for freedom – drinking too much alcohol, taking hard drugs, gambling or watching porn. Those sorts of things promise you freedom. They tell you to go on and do whatever you want, there are no lasting implications.
But alcohol enslaves, gambling enslaves, hard drugs enslave, and porn especially enslaves. Once is not enough. Then you need something more, something harder, something bigger. It doesn’t lead to freedom, it doesn’t lead to more enjoyment, it actually robs you of your life. Because that is not the way you were made to live. You were made to follow God’s laws and so when you ignore that, when you are not controlled by alcohol, drugs, gambling, porn or self, when you are not powered by a desire to get from the rich or look down on the poor. Then you are free to be who you were made to be. You follow a law of freedom.
And what’s this about mercy triumphing over judgement? Surely it is right to judge people who have done the wrong things. How can we live in a world without justice? Well we can’t but we can leave the judging to God, the true and just judge. And we can remember that we are sinners and all are come condemned under God’s law but we were saved by God grace. So when we look at someone who is doing the wrong thing, we say to ourselves there but for the grace of God goes I.
And James is not saying that if we show enough mercy to others, God will show us mercy. No that is putting the cart before the horse. He is saying that the person who has received God’s mercy, will begin to show that mercy to others. Because we have experienced God’s mercy ourselves, we want to reflect that mercy to others. But the flip side is also true. If we are not merciful, we reveal that we have failed to realize how much we have been forgiven.
Adolf Eichmann was one of the primary architects of the holocaust. When he was tried for his war crimes at Nuremburg, Yehiel Dinur, who had survived Auschwitz, faced Eichmann for the first time since leaving the concentration camp. When he saw Eichmann, Dinur sobbed and fainted. Years later Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes asked Dinur what happened: Was he overcome by hatred or fear or horrid memories? Dinur’s answer is stunning. He said he suddenly realized that Eichmann was not some God-like authority in a military uniform who sent thousands to their deaths. He was just an ordinary man. And then, said Dinur, “I was afraid about myself... I saw that I am capable of doing this. I am exactly like he.”
Friends we don’t show favouritism because God has no favourites. We treat people the same because of the royal law telling us to love. And we act with mercy toward all people because we know that God was merciful to us. And because we want God’s mercy to triumph over our judgement. We don’t want to be controlled by our inner desires to get things from people or to enact revenge on those who have hurt us. We want the flavour of our lives to reflect Gods’ mercy.
Shortly after Queen Victoria came to the throne of England, the Lord Chamberlain presented to her several documents that required her signature. Among them was a paper pertaining to a man who had committed a crime, and who had been sentenced to death. The queen’s signature was needed for his execution to be carried out. “And must I become a party to his death?” asked the eighteen-year-old queen. “I fear it is so, unless Your Majesty desires to exercise her royal prerogative of mercy!” To her delight, she was informed that she had the power to pardon the condemned man.
“As anexpressionof the spirit in which I desire to rule, I will exercise my royal prerogative!” she said. She wrote the word pardoned on the document and the prisoner was set free. As we are children of the living God the spirit in which we should live and rule is that of love, that of mercy, that of grace, that of being more and more like God.
Now let me end with a true story. It is about an American Church who were filled with people at worship but sometime during a morning service a drunk walked in off the streets. Immediately the seats near the aisle filled up as people made out there was no room in their pew and so the drunk kept moving forwards toward the front looking for a place to sit. He couldn’t find a seat anywhere. So he plonked himself down on the floor just in front of the pulpit. Everyone looked at each other wondering what was going to happen next. And were relieved when an old elder slowly walked down from his seat at the back with his walking stick towards the street person. There was a murmur among the congregation, he will get rid of this guy and then we can get back to our worship, people were saying to one another. The elder got down the front and what did he do? Well if he knew his Bible he would offer the poor man the rich man’s seat wouldn’t he? But that would embarrass the rich man. So what does James tell an elder like this to do? To not play favourites. So the elder sat down beside the man and completed the rest of the service encouraging this new visitor.
And isn’t that what Jesus did? He didn’t just eat with the rich and famous but ate at the home of sinners. He wasn’t born in a palace but in a shed. He didn’t live a full life but died on our behalf. So that our sins might be forgiven. So that we might be bought to God. Jesus showed not a trace of favouritism. And if we are his followers, neither should we. Because we want to be like Him. Because we want to follow his law of freedom. Because we want our lives to have a flavour of mercy.