Favoritism, 24 October 2021

Series—Faith Works: The book of James
James 2:1-13

Series Big Idea:
Jesus’ half brother James offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.

Big Idea: We are to show love and respect to all…period!

There are three types of kids in this world. There are those picked first on the playground for the kickball, basketball, volleyball, or whatever team. These are the athletes, the skilled ones, the ones with speed. Some are naturally gifted while others have spent time developing their abilities. There are those middle-of-the-pack kids who are good players on a team. And then there’s that kid picked last. Nobody wants them, either because they are slow, clumsy, or just unliked.

Where did you find yourself?

Depending upon the sport, I think I’ve been in all three groups. I was solid at kickball in elementary school, but remember being among the last to finish the running on field day, watching the school buses pull up to the school, anxious that they might leave before I could finish my race! I was cut from the seventh-grade basketball team and couldn’t make the team in eighth grade, either.

Today we’re continuing our series
Faith Works, the message of James. It’s perhaps the most practical book of the Bible, written by Jesus’ half-brother James. Chapter two begins with important instructions related to favoritism and the simple message that We are to show love and respect to all…period!

Prejudice is simply pre-judging
someone. It’s a pre-conceived idea or opinion based not on experience or rational thought, but rather appearances and impressions. Prejudice can occur based upon the color of a person’s skin, their attire, or even their accent. In one sense it is very understandable. After all, when we encounter a person for the first time, we have limited data…and use what little information we have to form thoughts. It’s natural. However, like the temptation we spoke of last week, we must be careful what to do with those impressions while we seek to truly understand the masterpiece in front of us.

The heading for chapter two in the NIV version of the book of James says it all:

Favoritism Forbidden

The text begins…

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. (James 2:1)

Any questions? That’s pretty clear, but James elaborates.

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. 3 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,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:2-4)

Favoritism is a sin.
Again, it’s nearly possible to not pre-judge someone…yet looks can be deceiving. Often the person who looks wealthy with a fancy car and nice house is actually just using items that belong to the bank! So many people who look rich are actually in debt up to their eyeballs!

The opposite may be true, too. I have a friend who’s a multi-millionaire after selling his successful business, yet he often looks like he just came in from chopping wood! One time he went into a car dealership with tens of thousands of dollars in cash, ready to buy a car, and he couldn’t get anyone to pay attention to him!

We all want the best seats at the concert or movie or sporting event. In our culture, people can pay extra to have VIP seats, but in church? Actually, church might be the only place where people don’t want to sit up front, close to the action. What’s up with that?! Regardless of your wealth, you can sit in the front row of most any church in America (just don’t show up late and distract every person in the house!).

We looked at the end of chapter one back in July, but the verse the precedes our text for today says,

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. (James 1:27)

That’s true religion. The Pharisees had it all wrong, looking impressive on the outside while having proud hearts. We are to look after the orphans and widows. Are they poor? They frequently are. We are not to become polluted by the world, acting like the culture. That’s what they were doing in James’ day…and sadly today, too. James is saying regardless of what happens “out there,” we should never discriminate in here, in the family. Every part of the body is valuable. Every member is important. We’re all sinners saved by God’s amazing grace. We’re all hopeless apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

One of the things I love about First Alliance is we are a mosaic, a diverse family. Doctors sit next to homeless people who sit next to single moms who sit next to attorneys who sit next to ex-cons. Some are rich, others poor. Some are educated, some are high school dropouts. Some are young and others quite elderly. We have widows and widowers. We are here to serve orphans. All are welcome. Everyone belongs here. The only rule is no perfect people allowed!

James’ half-brother, Jesus, had a lot to say about the poor…and the rich.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

This doesn’t necessarily mean poor in finances, but any use of the word “poor” implies a lack, a need. This is why James continues in verse five…

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? (James 2:5)

It’s worth noting
there are many reasons people may be poor. Some have experienced unusual hardship such as a disability. Others are the victim of injustice. Many lack basic education, struggle with mental illness, some are simply lazy, and there are some poor who prefer doing life on their terms, no matter the results. This is why Jesus famously asked an invalid in John chapter 5…

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)

There are some poor persons who don’t want to get well. They want free stuff. They want to milk the system. They want sympathy. But they’re not willing to take the courageous steps necessary to change.

Many in our First Alliance family want to get well, and they prove it every Wednesday at
Celebrate Recovery. They demonstrate it by their involvement in one of our fifteen Life Groups. They welcome accountability. I’m excited to announce we’ve been working behind-the-scenes for many months on a system to help people who truly want to get well. It’s not quite finished, but we’ll be looking for life coaches or mentors to come alongside men and women coming out of prison, homelessness, addiction, poverty, or just lacking basic skills such as money management or parenting. Stay tuned for details.

I don’t want to make too much out of this, nor do I want to make too little. In our culture—and apparently the first century, too—the rich were used to getting the best seats in the house, the best service from the host, the most attention. Yet God has a special place in His heart for the poor, the needy, those truly seeking help.

James continues,

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? (James 2:6-7)

In the first century, many of the rich were nervous about this new messianic movement we now call Christianity. They had no respect for King Jesus.

Our political system is very binary, right or left, conservative or progressive. One preacher recently described it something like this:

The right says the rich are good and the poor are lazy.
The left says the rich are greedy and the poor deserve the money of the rich.

The fact of the matter is there are not two categories—good or bad—but four. There are “good” rich people who are generous and create jobs and there are “bad” rich people who are greedy. Likewise, there are “good” poor people who try hard when experience hardships and there are “bad” people who are entitled and refuse to work.

James has obviously encountered some “bad” rich who were exploiting, suing, and blaspheming the holy name of Jesus. He adds,

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. (James 2:8)

Jesus said the instructions of the entire Bible can be summarized in two commands: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the true test of your faith, your maturity, the caliber of your discipleship. Note, too, that we are not merely to obey the law, but to keep it. That means we are to put it into practice. So often we judge ourselves based upon the sins we don’t do or commit, but what about the sins of omission? What about our lack of love for others? What about our lack of generosity, compassion, or kindness? What about our indifference, our self-righteousness?

I’m getting convicted here!

But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (James 2:9)

Obviously, favoritism is not a way to show love! Sometimes it’s done unconsciously. I know none of YOU would ever deliberately show favoritism, right?! Nobody at First Alliance has EVER been biased, prejudiced, racist, discriminated, or shown favoritism, right?!

The first step in change is awareness of the need. If I had a nickel for every justification and rationalization I’ve heard for favoritism, prejudice, or any sin, for that matter. I’ve been guilty, too. But what would happen if we truly viewed every person as a masterpiece created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth? Broken? Yes! In need of restoration? Yes! That’s why we’re here! That’s why we partner with the Creator of the universe to restore His masterpieces! And even the best of us are also a work in progress. I love these words from the late Dallas Willard,

Saints use up more grace than sinners. Many Christians view God’s grace as something only for sinners. That is just not true. God’s grace is better defined as God’s power at work within us to do what we normally can’t do on our own. The reality is that saints burn through grace like a 747 burns through Jet-Fuel.

We are not to show favoritism because we all need God’s grace. We all need love. We all want to be picked for the team, welcomed in the family, and given a chance.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. (James 2:10-11)

I love that! Can you imagine someone appearing before a judge for murder and their defense is, “I didn’t sleep with anyone!”? Someone once said the law is like a sheet of glass. Once it’s broken, it’s broken. It doesn’t help to say it’s only a little bit broken! When we sin, we break the law, we are no longer perfect, we need God’s amazing grace and mercy, offered by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hallelujah!

The point is favoritism is a sin, just like adultery and murder. They may all have different consequences, but James is saying, “Stop it!” Christians are “little Christs,” and Jesus did not show favoritism. He did not commit adultery or murder, either!

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. (James 2:12-13)

Oh how I need God’s mercy. I don’t want what I deserve, punishment for my sins. That’s mercy, it’s not getting the punishment deserved. N.T. Wright says,

‘Mercy’ isn’t the same as a shoulder-shrugging ‘tolerance’, an ‘anything goes’ attitude to life. ‘Anything’ doesn’t ‘go’. ‘Anything’ includes arrogance, corruption, blasphemy, favouritism and lawbreaking of all kinds. If God was ‘merciful’ to that lot, he would be deeply unmerciful to the poor, the helpless, the innocent and the victims. And the whole gospel insists that in precisely those cases his mercy shines out most particularly. So must ours.

In other words,

The true measure of our faith is how we speak, act, show mercy, and love.

We are to show love and respect to all…period!

You will never encounter a person Jesus doesn’t love. You will never meet a person His blood can’t forgive. You will never see or hear a human who is not a masterpiece, no matter what you see or hear.

When we show favoritism, we insult the dignity of others and judge them. By doing so, we set ourselves up for being judged by God, and that’s a terrifying thought.

Instead of judging, what if we showed mercy?
Instead of hatred, what if we loved?
Instead of curses, what if we extended blessing?

We can’t all be picked first on the team. Even if we’re the captain, we can’t pick everyone first. But we can speak, act, show mercy, and love in a way that honors people and glorifies God. Instead of cursing, criticism, and favoritism, we can offer blessing.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Temptation, 17 October 2021

Series—Faith Works: The book of James
James 1:13-18

Series Big Idea:
Jesus’ half-brother James offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.

Big Idea: God is good, the giver of every good and perfect gift.

Today we’re back in the book of James, arguably the most practical book in the Bible. In between Global Missions Sundays and Advent, we’re going to continue going verse-by-verse through this short but powerful book. As a refresher, James is believed to have been written by Jesus’ half-brother who went from a skeptic to one of the leaders of the early Church. Dr. Tony Evans says, “James is the in-your-face, no -holds-barred apostle. He says in essence, ‘If you are going to be a Christian, be a real one.’”

I couldn’t agree more. The reputation of Christians in our current culture is…tragic! Instead of being known for faith, hope, and love we seem to have a reputation for politics, ignorance, and arrogance. We need real Christians, men, women and children who speak the truth in love, who are strong and courageous, who lead rather than follow, and whose hearts are set on the LORD Jesus Christ. It’s not about how much you know. The Pharisees were among the most knowledgeable people of their day, yet they missed the forest through the trees. Not only did they not look like Jesus, they had him killed!

Are you a Christian, a
real Christian? The short book of James is a great litmus test.

We looked at the first twelve verses of the book several months ago and James’ writings about trials. Trials are right up there with death and taxes as certainties in life. We all experience them, yet we are to consider them “pure joy” because they test our faith, producing perseverance and maturity. Verse 12 says,

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

We all want to be blessed. I usually sign my e-mails, “Blessings, Kirk.” It’s not one of those automatic signatures, but something I manually type each time. I truly want to bless others. I want you to be blessed. I want God to bless you…not only when you sneeze!

We often think of blessings as a new car, a promotion at work, or an attractive mate, but blessed or “happy” as some translations say is about our ability to experience, enjoy, and extend God’s goodness. It’s not about what happens around us as much as what happens internally, our ability to experience joy and growth.

There’s a big difference between trials and temptations, though they come from the same Greek word, peirazo. God allows trials to strengthen us. Athletes often compete in “time trials” which are races designed to test their abilities. In doing so, the runners are challenged and strengthened.

Temptation comes from satan who tries to cause us to fail. God’s testing and satan’s tempting can occur in the same event, but
God does not tempt anyone, though He allows trials.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; (James 1:13)

I think that’s clear. God does not tempt anyone, nor is He tempted by evil…though Jesus was tempted while on earth before his death and resurrection. Notice the progression that occurs:

but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)

Satan tempts through desire which leads to sin and death.

Satan cannot make you sin, but he can tempt you. He hates you and wants to destroy you…or perhaps wants you to destroy you! Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

Do you see the contrast?

Family, we are engaged in a spiritual battle. We have a very real enemy. He knows your weaknesses. He knows how to appeal to your desires, leading you into sin and death. He’s very good…but God is greater!

We’ve all heard countless stories of leaders—inside and outside of the church—who have had moral failures. I doubt any of them ever thought, “Someday I want to have an affair and destroy my marriage, family, and career.” It all began with a desire and rationalization which led to sin and ultimately death…the death of their integrity, reputation, and like all sin, separation from fellowship with God.

I must add God forgives.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Hallelujah! But we may still live with the consequences of our sin. All sin leads to death, whether it’s the death of relationships, trust, or in some cases literal physical death.

What can we do to avoid death? Don’t sin.
What can we do to avoid sin? Avoid desire and temptation.
How do we do that?
Be alert!

Peter wrote,

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

Where are you vulnerable? We all have different desires and weaknesses. Some of you struggle with alcohol, others porn, still others food. You may battle pride and self-righteousness (that’s been one of my vices since childhood). Fear is a seductive sin when the most common command in the Bible is, “Fear not.” You know the old saying, “If you play with fire you’ll get burned.” Where are you vulnerable? The enemy knows!

Most of us are tempted in the areas of
identity (which we discussed last month), acceptance, significance, and security. Jesus was tempted by satan in each in Matthew chapter four…yet never sinned. It’s important to note temptation is not a sin—only when we give in to the temptation. One of my favorite verses in the Bible says,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

It’s easy to think Jesus doesn’t understand pain or trials or testing or temptation…but he surely does! He was able to resist temptation because he knew his enemy, his focus was on the will of the Father, and he knew where and when he was vulnerable.

When are you vulnerable? One of my favorite acronyms, HALT, describes the four times we are especially likely to sin:


We need to be alert, especially when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. I have learned to be extra alert to temptation when one or more of these describe my condition. Often more than one is present.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. This is not about trying harder. It’s not about striving to be perfect. It’s recognizing all sin leads to death, the enemy is tricky, we need to be alert, and we need to call upon the LORD for help in times of trouble. I’m grateful for Paul’s words:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

You can make excuses and rationalize sin all day long, but the truth is you are not an uncontrollable animal. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit living inside you.

My friend and coach, Bruce Terpstra, notes in his book Three Passions of the Soul,

The power of temptation is that it has appeal to your soul. Jesus was tempted in every way just like us, and yet was able not to sin (Heb 4:15). He was able to throw off the temptation because there was nothing in him that was attracted to sin. What attracts us to sin? Our souls are sick. They have been corrupted. But there is hope because we are not under the power of sin any longer. We are not bound. Sin is not our destiny. Christ has rescued us and set us free. We are free indeed.

Last week at staff meeting we were discussing a definition of a disciple. A disciple of Jesus is, quite simply, someone who looks and acts like Jesus, someone filled with the Holy Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Holy Spirit gives self-control. Ask God for it!
We need to pray!

I realize sin is a struggle for all of us, myself include. As I’ve often said, I’m a recovering Pharisee…among other things. Sanctification—becoming like Jesus—is a lifelong process. There are successes and failures along the way. Staying alert helps. Prayer helps.

In addition, journeying with others help.
We need to do life together. We have fifteen Life Groups to help you. Celebrate Recovery gathers each Wednesday at 7 PM to help you with hurts, habits, and hang ups, which is all of us!

I know this is politically incorrect, but not only is it not all about you, you can’t do it alone. We were not created to be independent individuals. We were made for interdependent community. We all have blind spots and weaknesses which others can reveal and help us avoid. As we’ll see later in James, we are to

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

We need to confess our sins to each other.
We need to pray for each other.
We need to speak the truth in love to one another.
We need to love and encourage one another.

If you don’t have people in your life doing that, it’s no wonder you struggle with temptation and sin. I urge you to get in a Life Group. Serve on one of our ministry teams. Get connected…not because we need you to join anything, but because we need one another.

I want to say again that
God may test, but He never tempts. In fact, Pope Francis recently made a slight change to the Lord’s Prayer for Catholics to underscore this point. We commonly say, “Lead us not into temptation,” but the Catholic Church now says, “Do not let us fall into temptation.” I like that, because God never tempts. He does test, guide and protect.

James chapter one continues,

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:16-17)

God may test, but never tempts. He only gives good gifts.

God is good, the giver of every good and perfect gift.

The enemy wants you to believe God is bad, that He hates you, that He is out to get you, that He could never love you. That’s a lie!

God only gives good gifts and every good and perfect gift is from God.
When you are tempted—not if—focus on the goodness of God and His character. He is the Father of lights. He never changes. He always shines. He is truth. He is sovereign and in control. He is love.

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:18)

He made us His children so we can be a kind of firstfruits of His creation.

There’s a big difference between trials and temptations.

God does not tempt anyone, though He allows trials.

Satan tempts through desire which leads to sin and death.

We need to be alert, especially when we are H
ungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.

We need to pray. We need to do life together.

God is good, the giver of every good and perfect gift. You are so valuable to Him, a child of the Most High God, His first fruits, the very best. You are a treasure.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library