Saturday, February 8, 2014

Playing Favorites

Scriptural Reading: James 2:1-13
Devotional Reading: Romans 13:8-14

“Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35 NKJV) Most everyone in this world can remember a time when they were either favored or treated unfavorably. The recipient does not always have a good feeling about that point in time. Sometimes favoritism leads to unnatural and/or dishonorable evil ways that are not respected by the Almighty Father God and His Son, Christ Jesus. Recently a Texas judge granted ten years probation to a wealthy young teen who had confessed to drunk driving which led to the death of four (4) people. Most people would have been convicted with a lengthy sentence. However, the judge bought his attorneys’ defense of “affluenza”, meaning his wealthy parents let him get away with everything, he never understood he could not get his way, and that he had money and cars and more freedom than he could handle. See When we see such articles in the news it hurts because we tend to relate to those poor families with whom we feel did not receive justice for their deceased loved ones. Do we think the judge was fair in her ruling? Time will tell. We know not how this young man’s life will play out. That is something that will have to be answered by the ultimate Judge.

This quarter of study is entitled “Jesus and the Just Reign of God”. We are in Unit III – “Live Justly in the Reign of God” of the three units of the quarter. This is the second lesson of a four-lesson study. Believers are admonished to treat everyone equally and not show preference for those who “have” at the expense of those who “have not” as recorded in James 2:1-13.

There is no place in Christianity for snobs, discrimination, and/or favoritism. James addressed his fellow believers and challenged them against the sin of respecting persons. He stated at verses 1-4, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious LORD Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (NKJV) As a believer of Christ, you believe in His magnificent glory. You believe in His purpose and have accepted it as yours. You respect other believers for their relationship in Him. In professing our faith of Jesus Christ, we do not show favoritism to any man or woman so as to lessen the glory reflected upon Him. Christ lived without social barriers and with a conviction that everyone has the opportunity to seek access to God. James then gave the example of two men ushered into a meeting. One had on fine clothing and was given a good seat and special attention. This did not mean he had a good heart or that he was a believer in Christ acceptable unto God. The second man had on filthy old clothes. His scruffy appearance, however, did not mean he was not a believer who had not been chosen by God to inherit the kingdom. In fact, the usher discriminated as he judged with evil in his heart. God knows the heart of men (Prov. 21:2 NKJV).

James continued his address to his fellow believers by giving four reasons as to why it is ridiculous for a believer to favor the rich and look down on the poor. The first three reasons are found in verses 5-7 which states, "Listen, my dear brother and sisters: 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? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?” (NKJV) This respect of persons or partiality or favoritism is a horrible sin as it is an affront to the will of God. The first reason given is in verse five. God has chosen the poor who are rich in faith and love Him to inherit His kingdom. They are His elect. You will find this throughout the Scriptures; i.e. Matt 11:5; Mark 12:37. Unfortunately, they are despised and rejected just like Christ the King, Son of God (verse 6a). The second reason is in verse 6b. James inquires of his fellow believers why they would show favoritism to a class of rich people who as a whole have a tendency to bully them, the poor people. The very ones to whom the church was showing partiality were oppressing them and continuously taking them to court. The third reason is in verse 7. The believers were to consider how great a sin their favoritism appeared against the mighty Name of Jesus when these oppressors habitually persecuted and did things to destroy everything the church was building. It was ridiculous to continue to favor their oppressors over the LORD.

The fourth reason believers were to find favoritism ridiculous was that it violated the royal law (Lev 19:15, 18). James continued his address by explaining partiality is a sin against the will of God. It is stated at verses 8-9, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (NKJV) The believers must not hate or be rude to the rich or despise the poor. They are to do as the royal law says, Love…neighbors…” Too many times we are self-centered. We want to cater to the rich because there is a reward in it for us. We do not care to give anything to the poor because we do not believe there is a reward. However, if we fail to show hospitality to that stranger, he may be an angel without our knowledge (Heb 13:2). How would we feel? There is to be no favoritism in the LORD’s kingdom. It is a kingdom of love. The Apostle Paul wrote at Romans 8:9b, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (NKJV) Who is my neighbor? We learn from the Good Samaritan story of Luke 10:29-37 that our neighbor is any person who has a need which we can help to meet. Luke also reminds us that we must “Do to others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31 NKJV) There is no favoritism in the good faith principle either.

As James continued to instruct the faith community, the theme of partiality is further explained in how the faith community should live according to the law. It is not possible to keep the entire Law if any part of it is broken. James states at verses 10 and 11, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.” (NKJV) Believers can’t choose selected parts of the law to obey. It is the same Law Giver who expects our obedience. It is His will that you obey all of the laws. If you stumble and break just one law, it does not matter which one it is, you have broken the law. For this reason we are blessed to be under grace. We are believers of Christ Jesus by faith in Him, saved by His grace and the grace of the Almighty Father. The law is like a beaded necklace or a chain. If one link breaks, the entire chain is broken. Jesus came to fulfill the law (Matt 5:17). In Him, the spirit of the law is to love your neighbor. It is written at Rom 13:8b-10, “…whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments…are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (NKJV)

Believers are under the law of Christ. It is a law of liberty and freedom. As James states at verses 12-13, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (NKJV) Believers perform under the law of Christ because they have a desire to do so. They do not have a fear they must obey the law. Their behavior of words and deeds are not to become saved, but because they are already saved. The service of God is a perfect freedom and, by it we shall be judged. During our lifetime if we show mercy to others, the judgment which might otherwise fall upon us will be replaced by mercy. There will be a triumphant time of mercy over judgment for those who were merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matt 5:7). Doom shall pass to the sinners and there shall be judgment without mercy in the great day. Sinners shall receive vessels of wrath.

Let us take a test on partiality. In your heart would you pass or is it a question for which you require prayer? Do you show more kindness to those of our own race than those of other races? Are you more kindly disposed to the young than the old? Do you hang out in cliques? Are you more outgoing to good-looking people than to those who are plain or homely? Are you more anxious to befriend prominent people than those who are comparatively unknown? Do you avoid people with physical infirmities and seek the companionship of the strong and healthy? Do you favor the rich or the poor? Do you give the “cold shoulder” to foreigners, those who speak our language with a foreign accent? Do you believe that those who have done well in this world, on any level, should be shown preferential treatment? Do you remain respectful of those who have done great things in our world, and yet remain committed to honoring God? In the book of wisdom Solomon wrote, “To show partiality is not good – yet a person will do wrong for a piece of bread.” (Prov 28:21 NKJV)

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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