The Sin of Partiality in Our Churches Scripture (James 2:1-13)

The Sin of Partiality in Our Churches

Scripture: James 2:1-13

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH

Sunday, April 26, 2020

I recently read a story that applies to the passage we are going to look at today.

The story comes out of Ravi Zacharius’ book Deliver Us from Evil pages 422-423. He writes:

One of the greatest masterpieces of music composition, if not the greatest, is the work of George Frideric Handel simply called Messiah. Prior to its composition Handel had not been successful as a musician and had retired from much professional activity by the age of fifty-six. Then, in a remarkable series of events, a friend presented him with a libretto based on the life of Christ, the entire script of which was Scripture. Handel shut himself in his room on Brook Street in London. In twenty-four days, breathtakingly absorbed in this composition and hardly eating or drinking, Handle completed the work all the way to its orchestration. He was a man in the grip of profound inspiration. Later, as he groped for words to describe what he had experienced, he quotes Saint Paul, saying, “Whether I was in the body or out of my body when I wrote it I know not.” Handel’s servant testified that on one occasion when he walked into the room to plead with him to eat, he saw Handel with tears streaming down his face saying, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.”

         When Messiah was staged in London, as the notes of the Hallelujah Chorus rang out— “King of Kings and Lord of Lords…. And He shall reign forever and ever”—the king of England, drawn irresistibly, stood to his feet, and the audience followed as one. Listen to how one writer sums up the impact of Messiah:

         Handel personally conducted more than thirty performances of Messiah; many of these concerts were for the benefit of the hurting and the needy. “Messiah has fed the hungry, clothed the naked, fostered the orphan….” Another wrote, “Perhaps the works of no other composer have so largely contributed to the relief of human suffering.” Still another said, “Messiah’s music has done more to convince thousands of mankind that there is a God about us than all the theological works ever written.”

Ravi continues: “The first performance was a charitable benefit to raise money to free 142 people from prison who could not pay their debts.”

I find that story quite amazing. Handel used the benefits of the Messiah to go towards the needy. You know, as I think about it, it really shouldn’t be amazing, it shouldn’t be at all. Jesus was a common man. Jesus was a lower class citizen. Jesus washed the disciple’s feet. When Jesus was to be born the angels declared it to shepherds. Shepherds were common men, they were not the upper class. But I fear that in our churches, in our individual lives and in our mindset everyone is not equal. We all have our favorites. We are all partial to a certain type of person, a certain type of people.

Let’s see what the Scriptures say about favoritism. As we talk about this passage, I intend to show you that favoritism is a sin. Showing favoritism to one person over another is wrong. It is not right in our churches and it is not right in your Christian life. Showing favoritism means showing prejudice. You are all the church. You may think, “What I do on my own time is what I do on my own time.” But as a Christian, your whole life is Christ’s time. Paul the apostle always called himself a servant of Christ, even a slave of Christ. There is no part time Christianity. Part time Christianity is shallow Christianity and shallow Christianity is not Christianity at all because as soon as something doesn’t go your way your Christianity goes by the wayside. So, let’s get into the Scriptures and see that favoritism is wrong, wrong in the church holistically and wrong in your individual life as an ambassador of the church.

Please read with me James 2:1-13:

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

 

Now I want to talk about this passage in three parts. The first part is verses 1-4 which are a command not to show favoritism and there is a case study example of favoritism.

The second part is verses 5-7 which is a short section consisting of 4 questions which James uses to logically challenge the church that the ones they are favoring are slandering the name of Jesus.

The third part is verses 8-13 where the consequences of favoritism are shown.

  1. So, in verses 1-4: James names the sin and gives an example of the sin as a case study.
    1. Look at the first verse. James is extremely straightforward: “Don’t show favoritism.” Period.
    2. What is favoritism? Well I think the case study in the next few verses helps us understand that. Let’s look at the case study.
    3. Verse 2 starts with the verb “suppose.” This means that this is a case study. This may not be what is actually happening, though it certainly could be happening.
    4. So someone comes into the church meeting wearing a gold ring. A gold ring would be a sign of wealth. While Jews commonly wore rings, few could afford gold rings. However, there are some reports that in the ancient world the most ostentatious people wore rings on every finger but the middle one to show off their economic status (some ancient sources indicate there were even ring rental businesses.). So, needless to say, this gold ring is a clue to the case study that this man is wealthy.
      1. This is just the illustration, the case study that James gives. James instruction is not simply against favoring the rich over the poor but favoring is wrong in all cases.
      2. This case study also gives clues to what was going on in their setting.
    5. The man is also wearing fine clothes.
    6. Then there is a man that comes in not dressed as nice. He is a poor man in shabby clothes.
    7. The next few verses show that the rich man gets the best seat, while the poor man is told to sit on the floor or just stand.
      1. Now before I go on, let’s pause to really think about this.
      2. Does this happen today?
        1. Okay, so you may be thinking, “nope, not in this church. In this church everyone is treated equally regardless of pay.” Okay, maybe they are. What about in your individual life. Remember you are part of the church. Every Christian is part of the church. How are you doing in your individual life?
        2. Do you treat people differently based off of height, weight, looks?
        3. Do you treat people differently based off of color of their skin?
        4. Okay, I got one for you. Do you treat people differently based off of how they dress? Maybe there is a man or woman who is quite educated and wealthy but if you are around them they don’t appear that way at all. Would you treat them the same way?
        5. Do you treat people differently based off of occupation?
        6. Okay, all of my prodding has so far had to do with actions, how you treat people. Let’s prod a little deeper.
          1. What types of thoughts go through your head?
          2. As you see someone at work, at church, at a game; do you make a judgment of how you would treat them based off of dress, talk, language, skin color, weight, height, the music they are listening to, sports teams?

Chuck Swindoll tells a story that is self-deprecating and makes the point of what can happen when we judge people based off of how they present themselves:

Several years ago he was teaching at a Bible conference. During one of the first days he way eating a meal and met a couple. The woman seemed really nice and talkative. The husband seemed quiet and somewhat shy. They were sitting at Swindoll’s table and they got “table acquainted.” Later on as Swindoll taught (preached) he noticed the man would fall asleep. He noticed this didn’t happen just once, but several times. Swindoll said that he had it figured out. The woman has a husband who is not as devoted to the study of Scripture as she is. He simply came to this conference to please her. On the last day the wife asked if she could speak to Swindoll after the conference was over. Swindoll said “yes.” He knew what she was going to talk about, or he thought. He thought that she wanted to tell him that she really wanted to attend this but her husband just is not as devoted to the spiritual. She waited till everyone had left and then she said, “My husband is not here today. He feels bad that he falls asleep. He is dying of cancer. One of his wishes was to come hear you speak as you are his favorite Bible teacher.” Swindoll said he was convicted. His point was that we cannot judge. We don’t know all the facts.   

You see: his case was not a matter of favoritism, but he did see how this dying man presented himself and he made a judgment. We must never do that. Never! But I admit, I do it too. I may see someone unkempt and make a judgment and if that judgment leads to the way I treat that person, it is wrong.

You see the judgment of favoritism and the opposite of favoritism, being prejudice, starts in the mind. Then it becomes meditation and then it becomes action of favoritism towards one and prejudice towards another.

James is going to continue getting more specific in the next few verses.

  1. In James 2:5-7: there are specifics to the people; James communicates through questions that the people they are favoring are slandering the name of Christ.

Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

  1. You see the text says, “the noble’ or “’Fair’ name of whom you are called.” That is Jesus. They are favoring the ones who are slandering Jesus’ name.
  2. James says they have become judges with these thoughts. They have discriminated. These next few verses are very specific to the people.
    1. These questions have implied positive answers. This means the answer is obviously yes.
    2. Yes, they have discriminated amongst themselves and become judges with evil thoughts.
  • Yes, God has chosen the poor in this world?
    1. What does that mean?
    2. This means that Christianity is usually an underdog religion. Usually, not always. 1 Cor 1:26ff shows that Christianity is foolishness to the world. No worldly philosopher would believe that God died for His people on a cross.
    3. It was humiliating to be crucified.
    4. Jesus said, blessed are the poor in spirit.
    5. Yes, the rich were exploiting them.
    6. Yes, the rich were dragging them into court.
    7. Yes, the rich are slandering the name of Jesus.
      1. James even says by the way they favor the rich they are insulting the poor.
      2. Now a few more thoughts before we move on. It is common, too common and too natural, to view the rich better than the poor.
      3. Okay, point taken. God has equipped us to work and we all have different jobs and different jobs pay differently and are expressed differently. Don’t treat people differently based off of their occupation or financial status.
      4. Now, you may say: “this passage is talking about rich and poor relations.” You’re right it is. But that is just the example. The application is verse 1: don’t show favoritism, all types.
  • The next few verses deal with the consequence of showing partiality (James 2:8-13). Let’s re-read those verses.

If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

  1. The royal law. This just means it is the most important law. Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was and He said love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37ff). All of the other commandments are summarized in this law.
  2. So, James is saying if you are truly loving your neighbor you are doing good. But if you show favoritism you are breaking another law.
    1. So, James is saying: if you break one law, you have broken them all.
      1. I haven’t committed idolatry
      2. I haven’t taken the name of the Lord in vain
      3. I haven’t broken the Sabbath
      4. I am honoring my father and my mother
      5. I haven’t murdered
      6. I haven’t stolen
      7. Oh, no I have told a lie.
        1. Just as a piece of glass is broken so is the law. You break one law you have broken them all. Just as a baseball that goes through a second floor window ruins the whole window, when you break the seventh commandment, you have broken the whole law. You cannot just fix the part of the window where the baseball went through.
        2. This is why we need Jesus. Jesus covers all of our sins.
      8. So, James says act as though you are judged by the law that gives freedom. Christianity brings freedom. Jesus has saved us from having to scruple about which laws we have or haven’t broken; however, Jesus allows us to press forward. True freedom is freedom to obey God and do what pleases him. The law of Christ provides freedom from sin through the gospel. In the context of James’s discussion of rich and poor ( 1–7), he may also be suggesting that God’s law will set the poor free from prejudice, oppression, and exploitation.
      9. Lastly, when we give mercy we prove we are Christians which means that God’s mercy triumphs over judgment.

Closing:

So, Handel wrote the Messiah and regardless of race, regardless of wealth, he took his performance specifically to the people in need. Handel’s Messiah full of Scripture was life to the people who are marginalized by society. Handel did something that was countercultural. Praise God for that. Handel lived out one of my favorite verses, Phil 2:3-4: consider others more important than yourselves and look out for the needs of others before your own. And when we intentionally do that, we live out the Scripture and we eliminate favoritism from our churches.

Prayer

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