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Oct 16, 2016

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

Passage: James 1:26-2:13

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: James

Keywords: action, differences, discrimination, favoritism, listening to the holy spirit, prejudice, religion, speech, spirituality, unity, vulnerable people

Summary:

This passage tackles the problem of favoritism, distinctions and discrimination that often happens in the church. Recognizing and embracing the differences there always will be in the body of Christ can spell the difference between true and false spirituality.

Detail:

Pride & Prejudice

James 1:26-2:13

October 16, 2016

 

REVIEW:  Remember we talked last week about the danger of engaging in the study of God’s word (be it listening to a sermon, radio program, attending a Bible study, etc.) and NOT really DOING anything with it?  It deepens our self-deception. 

            So in an attempt to minimize that danger, how about we start today by writing down on your sermon notes what specific, concrete step(s) you took to put God’s word into practice last week.  This isn’t an exercise in pride or guilt-building; it’s a simple, humble attempt to improve our hearing of God’s word so that it moves into actual Spirit-led “doing.” 

            Anyone like to share what happened to them when/as you put God’s word to work in life last week?

INTRO: Last week we heard God’s word about being “doers” or being “self-deceivers.”  It all had to do with how we handle the Word of God.  It all had to do with the difference between simply hearing it (deceived that that is really obeying it) or actually doing it.

            Well, in today’s passage in James, we’re invited to ponder another deception that often takes place in the lives of God’s people.  It’s a deception that those of us who are honestly trying to put our faith in Jesus into practice can be particularly susceptible to.  It’s the deception of what James calls “religion” or what I would call “church traditions” or “code-keeping.”  Here’s how it reads in James 1:26ff.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

            That term “religious” has a pretty negative connotation in our culture today.  But that wasn’t the case with those to whom James was writing.  Substitute the word “spiritual” for “religious” and we’re probably closer to James’ meaning.

            “Those who consider themselves [spiritual] and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves and their [spirituality] is worthless.” 

Q:  What do you think of when you think of someone in a church who is “deeply spiritual”? 

  • Positively, he/she engages in regular spiritual practices of going to church, reading their Bible, working with the kids in Sunday School, witnesses regularly, reads Christian books, serves on some board or committee in the church, etc.
  • Negatively, what might they not do? Whatever you associate with “unspiritual” behavior—not hanging out with certain types of people, not going to certain places, not engaging in certain recreation or entertainment, etc.

James’ point is not to make lists on either side of the ledger.  But he doesn’t shy away from mentioning a couple of things on each side of that ledger either.

  • On the negative/’not’ side, he talks about the person who fails to “keep a tight rein on their tongues.” Of course, the image he wants us to think of is of a horse that is led around by a bit and bridal. 
  • ILL: I used to ride horses as a kid.  And when I was a kid, I was a scrawny kid! Well, maybe not that   J  I was in grade school when I started riding.  Trust me, every horse I’ve ever met was stronger than me.  Every one of them could crush my foot with one stomp.  They could buck me off (and they did).  They could run me under low branches to try and nock me off (and they did).  They could do whatever they wanted…as long as they didn’t have a bit in their mouth attached to the reins that I controlled. 
  • But once you got a bit in their mouth, you could not only make them turn right or left as you wished; you could make them stop, make them walk backwards, make them go in circles, just about anything you wanted…well, almost! J

 But I had to know how to bridle the horse (put the bit in their mouth) and how to use the bit properly. Horses definitely have a mind of their own.  But the proper bit used properly can do wonders! 

APP:  James is saying that “speech control” is far more indicative of real spirituality than many other “spirituality” indicators.  Just think for a moment about a few of the commands of God that have to do with our speech:

  • 1 Peter 3:10--“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.
  • 1 Timothy 4:12--Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers inspeech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
  • Proverbs 12:18--The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongueof the wise brings healing.
  • Proverbs 18:21--Thetongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

On the positive side, on the side of doing the truly spiritual thing, James 1:27 points to a couple of groups of people that should be captivating the attention of truly spiritual people.  It’s not an exhaustive list but it is specific.  James mentions “orphans and widows in their distress.” 

  • O.T. call to protect, help, give justice to particularly vulnerable groups of people included Levites, widows, orphans, foreigners who chose to live in Israel (and adopt Yahweh/Jehovah as their God), the poor.  These were people who, because of factors beyond their own control, were not able to take care of their own needs.  (It wasn’t just people who were poor because they slept in every day and didn’t want to go to work.  They weren’t poor because they drank or drugged or gambled away what little they had. These folks were vulnerable and needing help because of factors beyond their control.
  • N.T. picks up this call to care and have compassion for widows and orphans both here in James and in I Timothy 5. The latter is an extensive passage on how the church in Ephesus was to care for widows.  It had age criteria, family factors, lifestyle criteria.  Poor (Mt. 19:21; Luke 14:21; Rm. 15:26; Gal. 2:10), the disabled/poor (Lk. 14:21)
  • The challenge today in a very different cultural, social and economic world is to determine, just WHO are todays “widows” or “orphans” or “poor” or “foreigners.” Who is being “deprived of their rights” in our city?  Who is having “justice withheld” in our city?  Who are the true “widows among us” in our church today? Are there “foreigners” who we should be caring more for? 

Notice here, even in this passage in James 1:27, it is calling truly spiritual people to work with certain widows and orphans--those who find themselves “in distress.”  Literally that word applies to “physical, mental, emotional or economic adversity.” 

            Notice something about both these calls of James so far regarding the use of our tongue/speech and the treatment of vulnerable people.  BOTH relate, not to our private relationship with God, but to our public relationship with people

            If you go to the end of the next major section of James 2:1-13, you find that is exactly the emphasis God is wanting to make by bookending this passage. 

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

            In the section in between these two calls to care for the vulnerable are some specific challenges God is going to uncover and highlight.  Vulnerable people call for mercy of some kind.  Truly spiritual people extend practical mercy rather than judgmental criticism. 

            This may seem rather obvious and evident but let me nevertheless point something out about WHO is responsible for living out mercy that takes care of others people.

  • If you’re a destitute orphan, God doesn’t hold you accountable to take care of other destitute orphans. (Interestingly enough, sometimes the destitute are more generous towards other destitute than those of us who aren’t destitute.)
  • If you’re a suffering widow, other suffering widows are not something you will be held accountable for.
  • It is only those who are not in a particular vulnerable position that are called to care for those who are. And you might even be a foreigner who is living in a country that is denying you justice but you still have a responsibility to show mercy to widows and orphans and those as or even poorer than you. 

Which really gets to the heart of WHO are the vulnerable/poor/widows/orphans/ foreigners among us? 

This is one reason WHY all of us need vulnerable people…why WE need to be around vulnerable peopleWe need them to help us change.  We need them to help us develop God’s heart of compassion and mercy.  We need them to challenge our natural selfishness and favoritism and prejudices.  We all need people “less fortunate” or “more vulnerable” than us to whom we can live out God’s “royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself...’” (2:8). 

We’ll come back to this in a moment.  But for now, let’s finish vs. 1:27 with the final exhortation to genuine spirituality.  “Look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  One of the dangers of overreacting to legalistic churches or traditions is to swing completely to the other end of license.  God does call His children to stay away from what “pollutes” or “stains” us morally and spiritually.  The problem with trying to define exactly what that is is that we tend to swing back to legalism rather than continue listening to the Holy Spirit.  It’s that “holy” aspect of the Spirit that we need to come in line with. 

There are definitely some activities and attitudes in every culture that will pollute and corrupt every child of God (such as killing someone, rape, prostitution, hatred, bearing false testimony against someone, gossip, bitterness, etc.)  These are the things we should spend our time exhorting each other about, not the more questionable issues. 

But nothing can keep us from “being polluted by the world” like sensitivity and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit.  So here’s a suggestion.  How about we get into the habit of asking the Holy Spirit in the moment, what we should do?

  • Holy Spirit, do you want me to watch this movie or turn it off?
  • Holy Spirit, do you want me to talk now or listen?
  • Holy Spirit, do you want me to drive like this or slow down?
  • Holy Spirit, do you want me to get involved in this news item, this video game, this sport, this cause, this club…or do you want me to back away…right now or longer term?

For a world that is supposedly SO concerned about environmental pollution, it’s amazing how unconcerned it is about moral, mental and spiritual pollution.  God says, “My kids are different!”  Cultural pollution…pollution of my soul…should be as or more revolting to me than pouring sewage into my drinking water is.  Maybe we’ve just gotten too used to spiritual dysentery! 

On that happy note, let’s dive into chapter 2. J

            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?

            To talk about this passage honestly is to wade into a potentially uncomfortable, potentially damaging discussion.  To talk about real and sometimes obvious differences among us in any number of areas of life means that any of us may make statements or hold opinions that the Enemy can use and twist to bring further hurt rather than greater love.  But God apparently doesn't shy away from it.  Nor does he think we should.  So here goes! 

            First, James recognizes that there are potentially deep differences in the body of Christ.  He doesn’t deny the differences.  Neither does he call for the people of God to erase the differences.  He invites us in our differences to find unity, harmony and love.

            The “difference” he chooses to illustrate this problem we all have of favoritism is economic difference…”rich man/poor man” is how he states it.  Keeping in mind that all of us here, compared to the rest of the world, are in the top 15% of personal wealth, on a global basis, we ALL need to consider ourselves as the “rich.” 

            But every culture/society has economic differences.  James doesn’t say “income redistribution” is the answer.  He doesn’t even say that differences in wealth are a problem.  What he does say is the problem is differences in attitudes and actions towards people based on their perceived economic status

            On the one hand, I think that here at Mosaic, most of us have learned or are learning to get past this difference and embrace people on both ends of the wealth spectrum equally and lovingly.  On the other hand, I think that all of us will wrestle with this issue until we go home to glory.  I’ve noticed that it is often just as difficult for someone who carries everything they own on their back to develop a loving friendship with a well-to-do businessman/ woman as it is for the well-to-do businessman/woman to get out of their comfort zone and into the lives and hearts of those with little material wealth. 

            WHY?

            But it doesn’t stop there with financial differences.  WHAT are other differences that tend to form walls of “discrimination” or just unhealthy distance between us?  Walls of “comfortability” or “uneasiness”?

  • Race
  • Education
  • Appearance (grooming, looks, dress, way we carry ourselves, etc.)
  • Age
  • Political views
  • Sex (and sexuality identity, in our culture)
  • Emotional condition/make-up and challenges
  • Personality differences
  • Mental challenges
  • Physical challenges (health, disabilities, addictions)
  • Communication patterns/comfortability/styles/humor

The “difference” doesn’t seem to matter.  There will always be differences…since each of us is, well, “different”!  J  But it’s what James calls discriminating among yourselves and becom[ing] judges with evil thoughts that matters.  There is nothing wrong with noticing and acknowledging the differences.  2.  But what is wrong is when we think less of or behave prejudicially based upon those differences. 

            Here is, frankly, a common human experience that is very unlike God.  God doesn’t show partiality based on many of the things that move us to be “birds of a feather that flock together.”  Repeatedly the Scriptures make it clear that God doesn’t play favorites based on the factors that we tend to use to play favorites.  If anything, he tips the whole system on its head and actually chooses to bless in special ways those who may look to the natural human eye the most “un-blessed” in this world.

  • 2 Chronicles 19:7--Now let the fear of theLord be on you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.”
  • Leviticus 19:15--“‘Do not pervert justice; do not showpartiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”
  • Luke 20:21-- 21 So the spies questioned him [Jesus}: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
  • Acts 10:34—[Peter at Cornelius’ house] “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show

favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.

  • Ephesians 6:9And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritismwith him.
  • Timothy 5:21—“I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

Favoritism and partiality towards others is wrong because it is ungodly…it’s not God-like.  When we show partiality or favoritism based on differences, we step farther away from Jesus and the heart of the Father.  When we do that, it may make us feel more comfortable or even more powerful.  But it grieves the Holy Spirit who lives in us and “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” who reigns over us. 

This world and its systems may get away with favoritism and partiality all the time.  But we will never “get away with it” in the Kingdom of Christ.  In fact, doing so will put us on the opposite side of God’s will as well as His work.

James 2:5ff-- Listen, my dear brothers 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?

            Here is one of the more startling things about what God does.  Apparently God likes to take those “deficits,” those “negatives”, those physical, temporal things we want to run from and do away with, and He actually turns them on their head in the spiritual as well as heavenly realm.  God has “chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised to those who love him.” 

            If you are unfortunate enough to be born, raised or come into the riches of this world, you know this is true.  I’ve traveled all over the world, and I have met far more people who are poor in this world who are truly astounding, truly “richin faith than I have those who are rich in this world and are also rich in faith.  Economic poverty has a way of breeding spiritual wealth.  Oh, most of us will still choose economic wealth over poverty 9 times out of 10 because we really haven’t embraced this truth.  But every now and then there is someone who is so rich in faith that they will let go of and give away their wealth so that they can keep growing in faith.

ILLWilliam Borden was such a man.  As a young man, he was smart, athletic, a lover of people and passionately sold out to Christ.  When Borden graduated from high school in Chicago at the age of 16, he was heir to the multi-million dollar Borden Family dairy estate.  So, upon finishing high school he traveled the world. During that trip to Asia, the Middle East and Europe, he saw first hand for the first time grinding poverty and paganism.  In the process, he gained a heart for the souls of millions of people who had never heard the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. 

William Borden returned home from his around-the-world adventure committed to pursue God’s heart by becoming a missionary.  People were, naturally, surprised.  Why would a young man with so much wealth and promise choose to “throw his life away” in some stinking, poverty-stricken corner of the world?  In response to these criticisms, Borden wrote and dated two words in the back of his Bible:  “No reserves.”

He went on to attend Yale University where he had a profound spiritual impact upon his peers.  When he first arrived at Yale, he wrote his parents about the lack of spiritual life on campus.  He critiqued it as “Rather a hopeless state of affairs.” 

So his freshman year he started a small prayer group with a few other guys in the morning before breakfast.  Shortly this small morning prayer group gave birth to a movement that spread across Yale’s campus. By the end of his first year, 150 freshmen were meeting for weekly Bible study and prayer. By the time Bill Borden was a senior, 1,000 of Yale's 1,300 students were meeting in such groups. 

During his college years he put his family’s wealth to good use by supporting a number of Christian ministries to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.  One of those ministries he started himself.  It was called Yale Hope Ministries and was a rescue mission in the town of New Haven where Yale was. He sought to help through this new ministry those society didn’t have time or money for--widows, orphans, drunks and other destitute souls. 

Borden graduated from Yale in 1909, Phi Beta Kapa.  He turned down some high paying job offers, and went on to complete his graduate studies at Princeton Seminary in order to be prepared to be a missionary.  It was during this period of time that he penned two more words in the back of his Bible.  Under “No reserves” he wrote the words:  "No retreats." 

William had made up his mind to be a missionary in China to the Kansu people group of 15 million Muslims. When a friend expressed surprise that he was "throwing himself away as a missionary."  William calmly replied, “You have never seen heathenism.” 

Borden sailed from the U.S. for Egypt a week before Christmas, 1912.  He planned to learn Arabic and study under the famous missionary to the Muslims, Dr. Samuel Zwemer.  Within a month of his arrival, he contracted cerebral meningitis and died on April 9th of 1913.

While on his deathbed, he penned the last of those 6 words.  In the back of his Bible, under “No reserves” and “No retreats” he wrote his final epitaph: “No regrets.” 

One of Borden’s missionary friends had an answer worth noting to a question that plagued the world upon the news of Borden’s death.  “Why should such a gifted life be cut short?”  Sherwood Day, Borden’s friend, wrote, “I have absolutely no feeling of a life cut short.  A life abandoned to Christ cannot be cut short.”  

In Borden’s funeral message, Dr. Zwemer, his missionary mentor in Egypt, summarized the meaning of Borden’s testimony:  “By some, the victory has to be won over poverty…but Borden won the victory over an environment of wealth.  He felt that life consisted not in ‘the abundance of things that a man possess,’ but in the abundance of things which possess the man.”  [Warren W. Wiersbe, Victorious Christians You Should Know, p. 32.]

            What “possess” us?  The love of Christ or our love for things and preferences?  Many of us in today’s culture need to learn to win the victory over wealth.  We all need to learn to win the victory over prejudice for people who are more “like us” than
“different.” 

ILL:  A whole nation if not the world might well have become a different place if just one local body of believers in India would have simply obeyed this passage in James. 

When he was a student, probably the most famous Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, considered becoming a Christian. He read the Gospels and was moved by them. It seemed to him that Christianity offered a solution to the caste system that plagued the people of India.

One Sunday, he went to a local church. He had decided to see the pastor and ask for instruction on the way of salvation. But when he entered the church, which consisted of all white people, the ushers refused to give him a seat. They told him to go and worship with his own people. He left and never went back “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.”   And he did!  [From “Our Daily Bread,” Feb., 1979.]

 

ILL:  I find it striking that, according to the prophet Isaiah, Jesus was not a man that was physically attractive.  Isaiah, under the prophetic inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote about God’s Suffering Servant to come in Isaiah 53:2b, 3--“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” 

            Yet, who will be most glorious in all eternity?  Who has become most desired and longed for in world history and all eternity?  Who has become most beautiful to those with eyes of the Spirit?  JESUS, the one who “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

ILL:  I find it striking that in the history of America, God took one of the worst evils, slavery of Africans, and built one of the most powerful spiritual movements and traditions ever known to North America or the world. 

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German Pastor and theologian martyred for his faith by Hitler, came to America shortly before WWII broke out in Europe to study theology at Union Seminary in New York. He was deeply dismayed at the liberalism, the biblical ignorance and the spiritual pale that had spread over most churches.  It was in the African-American churches of the day that he found the life of Christ.  He wrote,

"In contrast to the often lecture-like character of the 'white' sermon, the 'black Christ' is preached with captivating passion and vividness. Anyone who has heard and understood the Negro spirituals knows about [this] strange mixture of reserved melancholy and eruptive joy" (p. 315).

Bonhoeffer would later introduce some of the Negro spirituals to the worship services at the illegal seminary in Finkenwalde (possibly one of the first places in Europe to introduce such songs). [Quoted in an article found at http://www.faith-theology.com/2009/10/dietrich-bonhoeffer-in-new-york.html on 10.14.2016 about a 2008 book entitled Barcelona, Berlin, New York: 1928-1931 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 10) Hardcover – July 1, 2008]

Then there was the Azusa Street Revival of 1906—William J. Seymour, L.A., California—was the beginning of a world-wide Pentecostal awakening that has seen some three-hundred million conversions to Christ world-wide (almost 15% of world Chr.).

            God is in the business of turning the tables on everything this world system and culture values and prejudicially prefers.  God is in the business of making sure that the small, mean, ignorant, petty prejudices of mankind do not define the true people of God. 

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…. 

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. 

            God has already given us a copy of the “Final Exam”… and there will be a Final Exam.  We, God’s children, have the opportunity to learn to “speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom.”  What law is that?  It’s what Jesus kept telling us.  It’s what James just wrote about again in vs. 8—that “royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself….””  

APP:  What is God asking you to DO to love someone across the differences that tend to divide us?