Pride And Prejudice
December 14, 2014
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
December 14, 2014
Have you ever had a bad church experience? Maybe you felt judged, alienate or slighted. Maybe you saw believers acting in destructive ways. Maybe you came with a sincere question, but somehow it was wrong of you to ask that question.
7 years ago I did a survey of the people here at church about questions that they would like to ask but never could. So here are the top 10 questions in order of frequency:
1. Why has God not answered my prayer?
2. Why do bad things happen to good people?
3. How can God predestine certain people and not others?
4. Why can’t I feel God’s presence?
5. Does God condemn homosexuality?
6. What happens to good people who don’t believe?
7. Why is it so hard to tell others about my faith?
8. What is the correct interpretation of the Genesis account?
9. Is the Bible accurate, and if so, why are there so many different interpretations?
10. Why are Christians hurtful at times?
There were lots of other interesting questions about gender equality, alcohol use, eternal security or lack thereof, who in the Godhead should be prayed to, why people commit crimes in God’s name, and so on.
But within the top ten, we have this question about the apparent ability of Christians to deal with each other in un-Christian ways. And it is this question that James addresses in the passage we are dealing with this morning.
So why is it possible for believers to be hurtful?:
1. Our desire to have things done the way we like them to be done
2. Our expectation of others
3. Our personal vulnerability
The reality is that we all have a desire to belong … to be part of a group of people who know us and accept us for who we are. None of us like being picked last when it comes to making up teams. We all want to be good enough and when we feel that we’re rejected it hurts, because in essence it touches our deepest insecurities.
4. Our own propensity to be selfish, judgmental, unkind, uncaring, impatient and prejudice
If you grew up in a church, regardless of denomination, you likely experienced a sub-culture, the church-culture of your denomination. Church cultures are designed by believers for believers who hold to the same ideas as they do.
Everyone speaks in tongues or no-one does.
Everyone is baptized the same way, by sprinkling or pouring or immersion.
Everyone by and large knows when to sit and stand up. Everyone recites the Lord’s prayer or the apostles’ creed, or they don’t.
Everyone sings hymns, or choruses, or the newest songs out there.
Everyone celebrates communion the same way, either with grape juice or wine or sherry.
Years ago I attended a Lutheran church for two years where they celebrated communion with white wine for some reason. It was one or many cups.
Everyone goes forward for communion or they don’t. Everyone knows the liturgy, or the general order of service, when to sit, when to stand, what to reply. Everyone knows what to expect.
And whatever church culture we like the most, we feel most comfortable with, is the grid we tend to measure all other churches by.
So we can come to the point where church people can say of other church people, they don’t do it right. They don’t speak in tongues, they don’t baptize by immersion, they don’t use wine at communion, they don’t play the right music, they don’t do it right, …
… when in fact it is simply the fact that this church doesn’t do church like I’m used to, in the way that I like, in the way that is the proper way. They don’t do it right.
By the way, personally I am extremely glad for different Bible believing churches simply because none of us do it completely right, none of us have the corner on the truth, none of us are perfect for every person.
Now in general, this would not be a problem if it just has to do with finding a place to fit in. But it is a big problem if the church, that was meant to be inclusive, becomes exclusive, when, either by design or unwittingly, non-churched people can no longer relate to it. Church culture is a big, big problem when it keeps certain people out.
Now most church cultures are designed by church people for church people. They are not designed for the unchurched. This becomes a big, big problem when a church culture keeps certain people out.
Jesus told a select few of his followers at the time of his ascension that his message and the message about him is not an exclusively Jewish thing. It isn’t an exclusively Roman or Greek thing. His message was for everyone in the whole world.
So, if everyone sins and falls short of God’s glory, if Jesus died for everyone, if God loves everyone, then the church, every church, ought to be for everyone.
The church isn't an exclusive club. It can't keep people out whom Jesus invited in . . . and he invited everyone.
If the message of the church is for everyone, then the culture of the church shouldn’t exclude anyone. Why in the world would we intentionally or unintentionally create a church culture that keeps people out?
You know, you need to take some “Presbyterian” or “Baptist” or “Pentecostal” lessons and come back in a couple of weeks. You need to learn to speak “Christianese” with a “West Coast accent.”
That does not mean that everything goes and everything is acceptable. It simply means that there has to be an openness to everyone, regardless of ethical or ethnic or religious background or social standing or outward appearance.
A lot people feel rejected by the church. They wanted to get involved, be a part, but they simply can’t seem to break in, they feel like perpetual outsiders. The early followers of Jesus knew that they were meant to be an inclusive movement: Go into the whole world and make followers.
In the passage we are looking at today, James continues on with regard to the practical implications of looking into the law of freedom and doing what it says. And he does so by dealing with the idea of prejudice or being partial or showing favouritism.
In its worst form, prejudice is the pre-judging of another person based on externals, on skin colour, nationality, appearance, by how someone dresses, looks, what they possess, what they do or what they earn.
1 My brothers, keep free from partiality (or: favouritism) the faith (you have) in our Lord Jesus Christ, (the Lord) of glory.
The word translated “partiality or favoritism” comes from two words—”to receive” and “face.” “To receive by face” is to evaluate a person on the basis of surface characteristics, such as their looks.
James warns, “Don’t just look at a person’s face, or outward appearance. Don’t be biased in your evaluation of another person simply by their skin colour, clothes, gender, nationality, religious background, age or social standing!”
The reason is simple: such favoritism obviously runs counter to the teaching and character of Christ. As such, it is inconsistent with believing in and following Jesus. Whenever we catch ourselves pre-judging others or showing favouritism, we need to catch ourselves and stop it, if we want to live according to our faith
Unfortunately, church history is stained with forms of exclusivity. Perhaps one of the reasons why Mahatma Gandhi remained a devout Hindu despite the fact that he wanted to live in obedience to Jesus’ teaching, is his experience with Caucasian Christians under South Africa’s apartheid around the turn of the century (from 1800’s to 1900’s).
James gives us a practical example of what might happen at church if someone there is prejudice against people of little means.
2 Suppose a man comes into your assembly (literally synagogue, which literally means “bringing together”) wearing gold rings and expensive clothing, and at the same time a poor man in shabby clothing enters as well.
3 You see the man in the fine clothing and say to him, “come over here and sit on this good seat,” but you say to the poor man, “stand over there,” or, “sit on the floor at my feet.” 4 Have you then not discriminated within yourselves and (so) become judges with evil thoughts?
Two men walk into a church meeting at the same time, one dressed in expensive clothes and wearing expensive jewelry, the other dressed in clothes that are shabby. The rich man is invited to sit in a place of honour, while the poor man isn’t even given a chair … he is made to stand, likely against a back wall or given the option to sit on the floor.
The poor man is treated as inferior to the rich man, and worse, he is treated with distain and contempt by the person telling him what he should do, because the person obviously was not standing or sitting on the floor himself.
I’ve actually experienced this once, but not in a North American context. It was during a wedding and a man of means was escorted to the front of the assembly and seated in the front row, which in that culture was a seat of honour, even though he wasn’t even part of the family.
But even we can react differently toward different people. Let’s assume for a moment that these two men walked into our church.
When we look at the person on the left, we may think of him as being important. We may think of the person on the right as being down on his luck, possibly looking for a hand-out. It may be to our personal benefit if we ended up befriending the well-to-do person, while it may cost us to get to know the poor person, he may want something from us – so we could be tempted to engage the one and to avoid the other.
By the way, the person on the left is one of a number of very rich pastors in the US. The person on the right is the actor Richard Gere.
What is just as common is judging people by their physical appearance. Every high school girl knows that how they look makes a huge difference when it comes to how popular they are. And every popular girl and guy can learn to lean on this in controlling others.
This is quite different from God. He doesn’t judge by appearance. He isn’t prejudice toward some nationality or race or gender or social standing.
The Lord your God … shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing. Deuteronomy 10:17-18
As a result, much in the OT speaks of justice, that is, proper justice in court and justice in one’s actions and attitudes toward those who could easily be taken advantage of or oppressed.
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great but treat your neighbour fair and just. Leviticus 19:15
Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does God require of you? To act with justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8
These are just a few out of many, many verses that speak of the need for God’s people to treat others just and without partiality.
James tells his readers that if they in fact FAIL to do this, they have “become judges with evil thoughts.”
He goes on to suggest two reasons why such discrimination is wrong.
5 Listen, my beloved brothers: Has not God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom (of God) which he promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonoured the poor man. (Or: insulted, despised = demonstrated to the man that you don’t respect him, that he’s not worth a lot in your own eyes, made him feel like dirt.) 7 Are not the rich the ones who exploit (or: oppress you) you and drag you into court? Are not they the ones who blaspheme the good name by which you are called?
This may be a troubling passage if we think that James is including all rich people here. That is simply not the case. The reason he is singling out the rich, because of those opposed to Christianity, they are the only ones who have the means and influence to actually do something about it.
They could, for example, accuse Christians in court of not following Caesar, of refusing to call Caesar their Lord, of not worshipping the gods of the Greek or Roman pantheon or the deceased emperors in the temples. They had the ability to bribe or pressure judges or the Roman military to take steps against believers.
The rich also had the option of exploiting the poor, for example, not paying those who work for them, something that must have been relatively common since James will address that particular situation later on in his letter.
Thankfully, God doesn’t just love the tall, dark and handsome, the popular or successful.
Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely YHWH’s anointed stands here before YHWH.” But YHWH said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. YHWH does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but YHWH looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:6-7
To God it is irrelevant how tall we are, what our haircolour or eyecolour is, how much we weigh, how popular we are, what house we live in.
We don’t know what Jesus looked like. Maybe he was short and balding. And maybe it’s a good thing that we don’t know what he looked like so we don’t think that this is what counts in God’s eyes.
Most of us struggle with issues of self. When we look into the mirror we feel that we are not tall enough, or that our hair isn’t nice or there’s not enough of it, or that we weigh too much, or that our nose is too big or our shoulders not broad enough, or that we aren’t popular enough, or that we aren’t good looking, or that our teeth are too crooked, that our income is too low, that we are struggling on too many fronts.
Part of accepting and liking ourselves is knowing that we are acceptable and likable to the One who created the universe. James continues:
8 If you really obey the royal commandment that is found in the Scriptures, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But when you discriminate you are sinning and the (Mosaic) Law itself convicts you of having broken it.
One of the most fundamental admonition in the Scripture is love for one another. This law is royal because it expresses the will of God for us when it comes to how we are to relate to each other.
Jesus said that the whole OT law can be summed up in this commandment and the commandment to love God (Matt 22:40), that there are no more important commandments than those two (Mk 12:31). He also said that treating others the way we ourselves would want to be treated, fulfilled the Law and the Prophets (Matt 7:12).
The apostle Paul wrote that the whole OT law is fulfilled in the commandment to love your neighbour as yourself (Gal 5:14), and that this one commandment sums up the whole OT law (Rom 13:9).
James turns this concept on its head. If the law of freedom, the law of love, is the essence of the OT law, then if we fail to love others, we are breaking the OT law as a whole. We are guilty of breaking the whole Law if we do not treat others in a way that we ourselves would not want to be treated.
Showing favoritism is not just a faux paux, a social impropriety – it is much worse than that – it is a sin against the most important indicator of God’s will for us when it comes to how we are to relate to others.
10 The one who keeps all of the (Mosaic) Law but stumbles at but one issue is guilty of (breaking) all of it. 11 Because he who said, “Do not commit adultery!”, also said, “do not murder!” So, if you do not commit adultery but you murder, you are still breaking the (Mosaic) Law.
James is saying that the Mosaic Law is more like a pane of glass than a pile of rocks. You can take one rock from a pile and the pile still remains. But if you throw a brick through a window the whole window is shattered.
James offers a somewhat absurd example to prove his point. The 6th of the 10 commandments says, “don’t commit murder.” The 7th commandment says, “don’t murder” (Ex. 20:13,14). It is absurd to say something along the lines, “I’m a good person because I didn’t make out with my friend’s wife, I just shot him between the eyes.”
If I care for the friend, I will neither sleep with his wife or murder him.
12 Therefore, speak and act as if you are being judged according to the Law of Freedom, 13 because judgment will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy, while mercy triumphs over judgment.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” is the Law of freedom because it does not need to be broken down into various components … So taking advantage of another person, killing them, not helping them in their need when we are able to do something about it, or treating them with disdain … they all fall within the rubric of disobeying the law of love, the law of freedom.
While one of us may obey the law of love by literally giving food to a hungry person food, another one of us may keep the law by given that person a job, another one of us may supply the food bank that is available to them. The point is, that we are to do something if it is in our power to do so. Failing to do something is where the problem comes in.
Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. James 4:17
Treating people differently on the basis of their position, their social status, their skin colour, gender, clothing, looks, or any other surface characteristic violates the Word of God—the royal law of love.
James calls for believers to a new way of thinking – the recognition that they will be judged with regard to their faithfulness or lack thereof to the Law of freedom, the law of love, the royal law.
You see, we can end up being so calloused that we simply ignore others in need, excusing ourselves as someone who has gone through worse, or seeing every person as someone who is trying to take advantage of our kindness, or saying that despite their poverty and suffering they are happy.
Or we can end up feeling superior to others because they aren’t as capable, smart, fast, strong, good looking, successful, intelligent, educated, as we are. We end up treating them with as somehow less. That too is against the law of love, the royal law, the law of freedom.
James repeats something that Jesus taught:
Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.
But he states it in negative terms:
Judgment will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. James 2:13
Truth be told, we are in constant need of God’s mercy. So why in the world would we not be merciful to others even when extended to those who seem the lowest or most underserving of it.
Our mercy is an indicator of the recognition that our own acceptance to God is based on His mercy toward us. When we realize the depth of our own need for God’s mercy, we should be moved to extend mercy, kindness, forgiveness, acceptance and respect to others. If we are not merciful, we reveal that we have failed to realize how much we have been forgiven.
We have no reason to be prejudiced. If God has received us it is not for deeds that we have done, but because of what Christ has done for us.
Now we may never fall into the trap of actually treating a person poorly because of something external. But we could fall into the trap of making it difficult for others to feel welcome in church.
I want to get back to the issue of church culture for just a few moments.
At one time James, the half-brother of Jesus, became the leader of the church in Jerusalem and an issue arose between some Jewish Christians with regard to the admittance of non-Jewish believers into the church. The apostle Peter first said,
God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted the Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. God made no distinction between us and them because he purified their hearts due to their faith.
This is what James said in response,
It is my judgment that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Acts 15:19
Let’s not create a church culture of exclusion, of segregation, of two citizens, a church culture so laden with traditions that it alienates those who aren’t used to them.
I was really never aware of this until I took my mom to church after I became a believer. Now we went to the evening service and so I finally got my mom to church. So, she came and she was greeted at the door, but afterwards, no one spoke to her.
She felt super awkward because she was the only woman in the whole church who had make-up on. She was one of the few who didn’t have a fancy dress on.
The choir in our little church wasn’t what you would call professional, if you know what I mean.
The instruments consisted of a piano and an organ.
The hymns we sang as a congregation probably were on average 200 years old, ranging from the 1600’s to the late 1800’s.
The person who was leading worship waved his arms, as if we a choir of 6 year olds.
The message was not presented very well and it seemed way too long. The pastor, bless his soul, used terms like propitiation and atonement and the elect.
The prayers were still done using thee’s and thou’s.
Now none of this ever bothered me. I was used to the church culture. I was comfortable with it. In fact I liked the church, which is why I invited my mom to it.
But unfortunately, there was nothing in that church service my mom, a non-believer, could relate to. She felt completely uncomfortable and never went back.
I know we don’t always get this right, but I can tell you that we are definitely committed to making this church as open and welcoming as we possibly can. Which is why I encourage you on an ongoing basis to make sure to say hi to people you usually don’t talk to on Sunday.
It is so easy, especially for introverts like myself, to just stay in a corner and never go up to a person to initiate a conversation because we’re afraid of saying something stupid or the other person blowing us off.
But the love of Christ should compel us to be as obedient to the commandment of love, the law of freedom as we possibly can.
The church needs to be an obstacle free zone for the non-churched. If you are checking out what Jesus is all about, I would hope that you will always feel welcome to stay as long as you want, to search as long as you want, to explore as long as you want, regardless of whether you don’t care about membership or give financially.
And my prayer and hope is that the only thing that potentially could ever offend you on a consistent basis is this: We ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. AND God did something about it through Jesus. Right standing with God is available through Christ to EVERYONE who believes.
To the best of our ability and with the help of every believer who attends here, we will continue to be a church with obstacle free zone.
WHAT AM I DOING TO MAKE EVERYONE FEEL WELCOME IN THE CHURCH?
WHO DO I TEND TO LOOK DOWN ON AND HOW WILL THAT NEED TO CHANGE?