The Epistle of James - Godly Values
Part 11 - Favouritism
13th July 2018
As believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, it is quite inappropriate for us to show what the NIV calls "favouritism", the ESV and RSV call "partiality", and J.B. Phillips calls "snobbery". What James means is we must never judge by outward appearances. If somebody walks through the door of your church, don't judge them based on what they look like.
Some wealthy people are horrible and some are lovely. Some poor people are horrible and some are lovely. You can't tell what a person's character is like by seeing how expensive his clothes are or how well his hair has been cut. It takes time to get to know a person properly.
When Samuel was looking for a new king for Israel, he first considered David's eldest brother, Eliab:
James keeps teaching us not to have worldly values, but to have Christian, godly, Biblical values - to think the way God things, so far as we can.
In our society, there's so much judgement of people based on what they look like. We're judging people because they have some facial imperfection, or because they're half a stone overweight. Some men's suits have two buttons on the front of the jacket, and some have three. I know of a man who will laugh at you if you're wearing a suit with the "wrong" number of buttons, because he thinks that makes you unfashionable. This sort of judgementalism is awful. We shouldn't take any pleasure in making somebody else feel bad.
Man judges on outward appearance. Not only women but now also men spend a fortune on cosmetics. We're trying to impress each other with outward appearance, to put on a good show, to look right. God doesn't mind you wearing nice clothes, but that's not the point. He'd rather have a saint in sackcloth than a beast in an Armani suit, and so would you. Be released from the desire to impress by outward appearance. If you want to look nice, then look nice, but it's not important. It's the love in our hearts that's important. When I was young, most people would say this.
This is as particular problem in schools, where children can be judged, excluded and ridiculed for wearing the wrong brand of footwear, or riding the wrong make of bicycle, or using the wrong sort of phone. Our young people can suffer dreadfully, especially those who can't afford the trendy stuff. Teenage girls are harming themselves because they don't look exactly the way the way they think they ought to look.
We should be different. The Lord doesn't judge by appearances, and nor should we. And nor should our children. This has got worse in my lifetime. Mums and dads today don't tell their children nearly often enough that it doesn't matter what shoes or clothes they're wearing. It's what's in the heart that matters.
Ray Stevens sang a song called "Everything is beautiful". One of the lines was "We shouldn't care about the length of his hair or the colour of his skin. Don't worry about what shows from without but the love that lives within." Just about everybody used to agree with that sentiment.
If a rich man were to enter your church next week, the treasurer would probably get very excited. If a stockbroker, or a pop singer, or a Premier League footballer were to join your church, think of the projects you could do. Think of the staff you could employ, the building works you could undertake. But Jesus was in the temple one day, and He saw people giving money, and some people gave a lot of money, but he was impressed by one widow woman, who gave two copper coins. he wasn't impressed by the amount, of course, but because she gave all she had. She only had two copper coins, and she gave them both to the Lord. This means so much more that a stockbroker giving 1% of his income, even if that 1% is a million pounds. God looks on the heart.
God can do anything with a church with the right heart. God can be embarrassed by some churches that have plenty of money. Worldly values are not Christian values.
In the law of Moses we learn,
Poor people are not intrinsically worse that rich people. Poor people are not intrinsically better that rich people. I've experienced a great deal of snobbery. The way I talk, you would. And it's horrible. Some people look down on me because I'm not posh. But I've also seen working class people look down on people because they are posh. It's just as bad, isn't it? Don't concern yourself with the accent they speak with, look at the love they act with, and give with, and serve with. In the temple that day, The widow gave with more love than anybody else.
The Lord loves those who will give everything they have to God. Can you imagine a church where everybody is totally sold out for God? I don't actually think God wants us to give away every penny we have, and live in a tent on the M3, but I do believe God wants us to have hearts that will give him whatever He asks for, who have dedicated our time and energy to kindness, gentleness and godliness.
No matter what our background is. No matter what our accent is. No matter what our educational achievements are. No matter how big our bank balance, or how small, or even if we don't have a bank. God loves those who love Him.
God loves the poor and the rich. Poverty is not a sign that God doesn't love you:
We must be poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). To be poor in spirit surely includes not looking down on anybody. Humility is remembering that I am not better than the last person to walk into my church. I'm not even better than the last person to criticise me.
That won't happen in a modern-day English church (or, at least, I hope it won't) although it seems that in James's time, it did happen. But I remember the time when the mayor of Fareham visited our church once. She sat in the middle of the front row, and we made a bit of a fuss over her, "Come in mayor, sit down, have a cup of tea..." We don't treat everybody like that. Suppose over coffee, a well-spoken man with a nice suit, who drives a nice car and has clean shoes was there, and a scruffy person was there. Would not more of us go to speak to the well-dressed man? And if that's true, have we not discriminated, becoming judges with evil thoughts?
May God grant that rich people and poor people come to your church. And may God grant you the humility to love them all, so you don't not get uppity with the posh ones, and you don't get sneery with the poor ones, but you just love all of them. May you and not look at the outward appearance, but at the heart. May we have hearts of love, and faith, and desire for the kingdom of God.
This doesn't only apply if you've got a good suit, and it doesn't only apply if you haven't. It's a heart of hunger for righteousness, and truth, and forgiveness and love, that matters.