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Worship Theme: The Gifted Life Follows the Way of Humility
Sermon Theme: No Room for Favoritism
Favoritism doesn’t just find its way into families related by blood, but favoritism also works its way into families joined together by the blood of Jesus – Christians. In James 2:1-13, James brings up the topic of favoritism and tells us there’s “No Room for Favoritism.” August 28, 2022.
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens; Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens;
Brown paper packages tied up with strings; These are a few of my favorite things.
Those words were famously sung by Julie Andrews in the movie called, “The Sound of Music.” She sang it as a reminder that when things weren’t going well, you could remember your favorite things and then you wouldn’t feel so bad.
What are some of your favorite things? What’s your favorite ice cream? What’s your favorite movie? What’s your favorite book? Your favorite color? Who’s your favorite parent or child? No! Don’t answer that one!
You see, while really liking something and having a favorite food or color or hobby isn’t a bad thing, playing favorites with people can get messy. Parents, if you play favorites with your kids, there are going to be hurt feelings. Kids, if you play favorites between your parents, there’s going to be resentment. Favoritism can tear families and relationships apart.
There was a father who had twelve sons. He had a clear favorite, a son named Joseph. The father loved Joseph more than his other sons. He treated him better and gave him nicer things including fancy clothes. Guess how the other brothers felt about Joseph. They hated him, couldn’t say a single nice thing about him, and eventually tried to kill him. All of this because of favoritism. Perhaps you’ve experienced that kind of rivalry and resentment that comes when there is clear favoritism at play within a family. Maybe you’ve even been guilty of causing rifts because of your own favoritism.
But you see, favoritism doesn’t just find its way into families related by blood, but favoritism also works its way into families joined together by the blood of Jesus – Christians. In a book of the Bible that largely tackles what Christian life looks like, what it means to walk with Jesus as Christian people, James brings up the topic of favoritism. Right off the bat, the first verse says this, “My brothers and sisters (in other words – family in Christ), believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” There it is. There is no room for favoritism in the family of Christ. I have to imagine that the original readers had the same thought that you might have right now, “Great! I’m glad that favoritism isn’t something that I wrestle with!”
James goes on to give an example of favoritism. Two people walk into church on a Sunday morning. One is wearing a well-tailored, crisp, stylish suit. He is clean-cut and chiseled and carries himself with confidence. Members immediately go over to him to introduce themselves, shake his hand, give him a tour of the church and invite him to sit next to them. All the while they are thinking, “We need this guy in our church. I bet he could be a great asset!” The second person who walks in looks like he just came off the jobsite, disheveled clothes, unkempt hair, stooped over, and grungy. He gets some cursory glances and perhaps an obligatory smile. But no one really goes out of their way to greet him. No one wants him to sit by them. Most hope he’ll pass by their pew and sit somewhere else, maybe in the back or in the corner love seats. Some don’t mind that he’s there as long as he doesn’t cause trouble and others hope it’s a one-time visit.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever given preferential treatment to someone else based purely on what you see on the outside or what you expect you’ll get in return? I need you to do an honest gut-check. Do you treat everyone here in this room the same way? Do you give preferential treatment to those you are more comfortable with, who maybe dress like you, look like you? Are you more interested in talking to someone who looks like they can help you, thinking, “He’s the kind of guy I want to get to know because he’s going places.”? That type of thing? On the flip side, do you look around and see people beneath you, not worth your time, wondering why they are even here? Like they don’t belong? To my shame, I’m guilty. I imagine that you are too.
James summarizes his example with this statement, “Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” As God gave his instructions to the people of Israel, he said, as recorded in Leviticus 19:15, “Do not perverse justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” So often you and I make judgments based on the wrong things, the things that we determine to be good, and those wrong judgments are carried out in the poor way that we treat one another.
Yet, God doesn’t give us instruction without sharing why it’s wrong. You see, it’s the poor that are often overlooked that God says will be rich in faith and will inherit the kingdom of heaven. In other words, God values the poor and his promise of forgiveness and life through Jesus are for them! The rich and powerful that are often favored, they are often the ones exploiting you, dragging you into court, using you for their benefit, and too often giving the Christian faith a bad name. The reality is that favoritism disgraces the Christian faith and disgraces the glory that belongs to the Lord God.
James is blunt about this important truth. Favoritism is sin and it makes you a lawbreaker. Maybe you’re thinking, “You’re right, favoritism is wrong, but it’s not that bad, right? There are worse sins.” James cites Jesus’ teaching about the greatest commandments, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When you don’t love your neighbor, you hide the love of God from them. If you fail to show love to your neighbor in any way, whether it’s adultery or hurting or harming them, or showing favoritism, you’ve broken God’s law and fallen short of his demand to uphold his commands perfectly. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” It’s like having a test of 1000 questions that you have to get completely right to pass and you get just one question wrong. You failed. At that point it’s like you got them all wrong. The result is the same. Or imagine God’s law like a pane of glass. It doesn’t matter where you hit it with a hammer, the whole thing is going to shatter and be ruined. How serious is the sin of favoritism? “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.”
Here’s the deal, at the end of the day when you walk into the presence of God, you don’t look clean cut and all put together. You come with stains of sin and baggage of guilt. God should want nothing to do with you. Yet he looks on you with love. He comes to you with his Spirit. He invites you into a relationship with him all because of Jesus. We find that mercy triumphs over judgment.
Nowhere is that truth more on display than when you look at what Jesus did for you. He was wrongfully judged. The religious leaders of his day despised him. He didn’t look the part of the promised Savior. He wasn’t clean cut and put together. He never had wealth, but lived a humble life depending largely on the goodness and hospitality of others. In the cruelest of moments, they judged him without mercy, condemning him to die on a cross. But you see, Jesus went that path humbly and willingly in order to take your place for your sins. At the end of a wrongful trial and judgment, who came out victorious? The tomb is empty. The risen Savior seen. He’s ascended to the right hand of God where he rules over all things, including in your heart and life. Jesus won. Because he won, you are covered in the favor and mercy of God, forgiven and made clean and new in the righteousness of Jesus. God doesn’t show favoritism by only offering forgiveness and a new life with him to those in whom he sees merit and goodness, who do the right things. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God sent Jesus for every person, you and everyone here. There is no room for favoritism, but only God’s grace and mercy.
Jesus sat and talked with a woman next to a well who lived a scandalous, adulterous life. He asked greedy and traitorous tax collectors to be disciples and to eat at their home. Jesus praised a woman who gave just a few pennies worth of offering. He compassionately and patiently spent time with crowds of people with broken bodies and broken hearts. Jesus picked a killer of Christians to be a great world missionary. Jesus also was friends with wealthy folks and took time to meet with religious elite. But he never showed favoritism. He loved those who came before him.
What does this look like in your life? Love people with the same heart and attitude that Jesus had. Love your neighbor as yourself. Not like, but love, the agape type of love which means unconditionally and selflessly without expecting anything in return. See each person, rich or poor, great or small, same background as you or different, as a person loved by God, sought by God, redeemed by God. Sit with the less fortunate, the different, eat with them, talk to them, acknowledge them. Get uncomfortable for the sake of Jesus. Jesus was known for and even criticized for spending time with the poor and outcast, with sinners. He went to their homes, he ate with them, he prayed with them, he healed them, they loved him and became eternally rich through faith in him. Know the mercy of God in your life and share the mercy of God with others. There’s no room for favoritism. Amen.
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