Sermon 03-02-14: “The Sin of Partiality”

March 14, 2014

practically_perfect

What do we need to be happy—truly happy? We often show favoritism because we think we need people or possessions to “fill up our spiritual tank.” The truth is, nothing can satisfy our souls except God. He gives us everything we need, if only we’ll trust him!

Sermon Text: James 2:1-9

A couple of weeks ago, my family and I went to Disney World. We’ve had annual passes this past year, so we went one last time before they expire. Do you know about the “Fastpass” system? It enables you to make an appointment to ride a ride at a certain time, so you don’t have to wait in long lines.

Well, they’ve upgraded the system recently, and let’s just say they haven’t worked out all the bugs. So Lisa went to Guest Relations to complain—and this being Disney and all—they went above and beyond to help us. Basically, they gave us a stack of free Fastpasses that entitled us to go to the front of the line on any ride we wanted, in any park we wanted, at any time we wanted. Just walk right up to any ride and get on! It was awesome!

Did we feel ever so slightly guilty that we had this great advantage not only over those poor slobs who actually had to wait in the “standby” line, without Fastpasses, but also over the people who were using the regular Fastpass system? Did we feel a little guilty?

No way! We just walked to the front of whatever ride we wanted to ride, looked at everyone else, and said, “See you later, Suckers!”

No, we didn’t really do that. But we did feel like we were royalty or something—like if Prince William and Princess Kate came to visit Disney World, they couldn’t have been treated any better than we were.

I’ll be honest. I liked it! I liked being treated better than everyone else. It made me feel very special.

In today’s scripture, a similar situation is happening—only it’s happening in church.

James is complaining that when wealthy people with gold jewelry and fine clothing come into church, ushers are giving them the best seats in the house, while poor, smelly, shabbily dressed people are made to stand or sit on the floor. This is unacceptable, James says: “My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”

James calls Jesus the “Lord of glory.” The word “glory” means honor, splendor, praise. To be glorious is to be worthy of praise. It’s also the same word used in Exodus to refer to physical manifestations of God’s presence with Israel as they wandered in the wilderness: Remember the “pillar of fire” that hovered above the tabernacle? It was God’s way of showing the people that he was right there in their midst. Remember when Moses went up Mount Sinai to commune with God and some of God’s glory had “rubbed off” on Moses’ face, such that when he came down from the mountain his face would be luminous, shining, reflecting the light of God’s glory?

Last week, as I mentioned in my funeral sermon for Bart Chandler, I had the pleasure of reading through one of his prayer journals. In entry after entry, Bart talked about wanting to glorify God on that particular day. He wanted his work to be for God’s glory. In one prayer, he said, “Let your face shine through mine, Lord Jesus.” When you talk about glorifying God, what you’re really saying is let other people see God through my life, my words, my actions.

This is why Jesus is the “Lord of glory”: not only do you see God through Jesus; when you see Jesus, you see God—God in the flesh! As John says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”[1] Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”[2]

Jesus Christ is what true and lasting glory looks like, and James wants us to contrast his glory with the superficial glory that we see in the wealthy people who wear shiny gold rings and “fine clothes.” The Greek word “fine,” as in fine clothes, shares the same root as the English word “lamp,” and it literally means “bright and shiny.” So these wealthy people seem to radiate a kind of “glory”—with their shiny rings and shiny clothes—and these church members are showing favoritism to them because they seem to be so much more glorious than those dirty, smelly, shabbily dressed poor people.

But that’s only because these Christians have forgotten who they are in Christ. They’ve forgotten that all Christians—even these poor ones with the shabby clothes—possess something infinitely greater than money, fine jewelry, fine clothes, or anything else the world can offer—they possess the very glory of Jesus Christ—because Christ gives us his glory. In John 17, Jesus prays, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them.”[3] Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians, “It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[4]

He gives us this glory as a free gift: While our own disobedience separated us from God, and we were lost in our sins, and we deserved death and hell, Christ achieved a perfect record of sinless obedience to the Father for us. And when we believe in him, he gives us his perfect record as a gift. “He lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died in our place, so that when we believe, our sins are pardoned and we are ‘counted righteous in his sight.’”[5] God the Father now loves us and accepts us in the exact same way he loves and accepts his Son Jesus. We are now God’s beloved children. We have eternal life. We have treasure in heaven—where moth and rust won’t destroy, where thieves can’t break in and steal.

What is the “glory” of money or jewelry or fine clothes or any earthly thing compared to the glory that God has given us in Christ? What else do we need?

In Tim Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage, he writes:

We are often running on fumes, spiritually, but we must know where the fuel station is and, even more important, that it exists… Christians have learned that the worship of God with the whole heart in the assurance of his love through the work of Jesus Christ is the thing their souls were meant to “run on.” That is what gets all the heart’s cylinders to fire. If this is not understood, then we will not have the resources to be good spouses. If we look to our spouses to fill up our tanks in a way that only God can do, we are demanding an impossibility.[6]

Our spouses cannot fill up our tanks. Neither can boyfriends or girlfriends. Neither can friends. Neither can academic success, or career success, or athletic success. Neither can popularity, or possessions, or power, or prestige. So, for example, we don’t need to curry favor with the rich and powerful—as these Christians in James’s church were doing—because we don’t need anything from them. They possess nothing that we covet. Everything we need to fill up our tanks comes from God alone—and he doesn’t charge us for it, and we can’t pay him for it, and we don’t have to earn it. It’s all grace.

I’ll be honest: As a man, I have a hard time trusting that my value, my worth, comes from Christ alone by grace, and not from my strength, my work ethic, my intellect—not from anything I can do or accomplish or pay for. It wounds my pride to have a debt that I can’t pay. So I sometimes live my Christian life as if I am earning God’s love, as if I am paying him back. And then when I fall short and sin, I feel terribly guilty! Like how could God forgive me this time—I mean, sure, I needed God’s grace to forgive my previous 14,326 sins, but I’ve been paying my own way since then, and somehow I’m still in the red with God. Surely God will grow weary of continuing to bail me out, right?

Of course not—the cross of his Son Jesus has covered all our sins, past, present, and future. So when it comes to sin, we repent as we become aware of it and move on, confident that all our sins were nailed to the cross.

Last week, I was reading this Christian blogger who’s a former missionary. He now has a leadership consulting business. And business is going well. He was talking to a friend about his business success, and he said, “Definitely feeling blessed…” He wrote, “The words rolled off my tongue without a second thought. Like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or placing my usual lunch order at McDonald’s. But it was a lie.”

He goes on to say that while he has enjoyed recent financial success, he’s mistaken to call this success a “blessing” from God. Among other things, he said, it’s not fair to all the Christians in the world who have so much less than he does. Why would God “bless” him with so much more—materially speaking—than everyone else? No, he said, God doesn’t bless us with material things.

Well, I couldn’t disagree more for a number of biblical reasons. The whole system of tithing in the Old Testament, for instance, was a way of acknowledging that God had blessed the recipient with this harvest. Our Lord teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” as a way of acknowledging that bread and all other material provisions come from God. James himself says that “every good and perfect gift is from above.”

Just a couple of years ago I was driving an 18 year old Honda, which was being held together with duct tape, bailing wire, and chewing gum. I prayed that God would give us the money to replace it. Did God answer my prayer when he enabled me, finally, to buy a much newer used Honda? Am I allowed to call my much newer used Honda a blessing. I hope so, because it certainly feels like one to me!

I could say, “It’s not fair that I can afford this car while so many poor people in the world can’t.” Well, God isn’t “fair,” if by fair you mean that God offers an equal distribution of material blessings in the world. Maybe God gives us more material blessings because he wants us to be more generous with these blessings—we have more in order to give more. I’ll be the first to agree that we’re often lousy stewards of the blessings that God gives us, but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t give them! It does mean that “to whom much is given, much will be expected,” and we’ll be judged by God for how well or how poorly we managed the gifts God gave us.

Regardless, if you want to talk about fairness, God isn’t “fair” when it comes to other types of blessings, either. Are children a blessing from God? Of course they are—along with an enormous responsibility. Yet there are plenty of married couples who are unable to have children of their own. Is that fair? And if that isn’t fair, does that mean that our own children aren’t gifts from God? Of course not!

A while back, Christian financial adviser Dave Ramsey was talking about this issue of God’s fairness: “God has chosen to give most of you better hair than me, to make Tiger Woods a better golfer than me, to make Brad Paisley a better guitarist than me, and to make Max Lucado a better writer than me. With God’s grace, I am fine with that.”

Are we fine with it?

When we look at people who are financially more successful than we are, who are more talented than we are, who are prettier than we are, who are better preachers than we are, who are more popular than we are, who enjoy better health than we do, who have more leisure time than we do, who get to see their grandchildren more often  than we do, who haven’t suffered as much as we have—whatever it is—are we willing to look at their lives and their many blessings and say, “I’m fine with that”? Are we willing to say: “They have what they have because God wants them to have it. And I have what I have because God wants me to have it. And I’m fine with that. This is God’s will, and God knows what’s best, so I’m fine with that”?

I hope so… because unless or until we can say that, it’s clear we’re looking to someone or something other than God to fill up our tanks. We’re second-guessing God and thinking, “If only I had something else, something other, something more, then my tank would be full.”

Brothers and sisters, if we believe in Jesus Christ, I promise we already have everything! We are wealthy beyond measure! We have the glory of Jesus Christ within us!

You know that blogger I mentioned who complained about how unfair it is that he has more than other people? What is he really saying? “I don’t deserve all this stuff that I have.”

And I want to say to him, “Yes! Exactly! That’s God’s grace! You don’t deserve anything from God! None of us deserves anything from God!”

Yet, in spite of this fact, look at all that God gives us as a free gift! Every moment of life is a gift. Every heartbeat is a gift. Every breath we take is a gift. We don’t deserve any of it. It’s all a gift. And if it’s a gift, that means we’re not entitled to it. We should be grateful for what we have, rather than being sorry for what we don’t have. We shouldn’t take a moment of life for granted.

Nor should we take for granted that we will continue to have life in this world.

Weren’t we reminded of this truth last week when our brother Bart died suddenly and unexpectedly. There are no guarantees in life. None of us knows how much time God will give us on earth. None of us knows when God will call us home. What we know for sure is that we have this moment right now to get ready.

There’s a prayer that we prayed during Bart’s funeral service that includes this petition: “Help us to live as those who are prepared to die.” It’s inspiring to know that Bart, even though he was relatively young, was prepared to die.

Are you? Let’s pray…


[1] John 1:14

[2] John 14:9

[3] John 17:22

[4] 2 Thessalonians 2:14

[5] Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011), 69.

[6] Ibid., 52.

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