May 7, 2017
Raise your hand if you’ve ever bought anything from a vending machine? If you have, you know that they can be either your best friend, or your enemy. There are times when the vending machine is great. You put your dollar in, you punch in the number for the Twix candy bar, the machine pushes it forward and it drops to the bottom. You pick it up and go on your way with a big smile on your face as you eat your Twix.
But then there are times when it’s not so easy right? You get to the vending machine all excited about the Twix you’re going to enjoy. You can already taste the chocolate, caramel, cookie, candy bar. You put the dollar into the machine lost in your own thoughts about how the Twix candy bar is the best candy bar. I mean you get two candy bars for the price of one. It’s such a good deal, that you wonder why everyone doesn’t buy the Twix. But the machine makes a noise that brings you back to reality. It has rejected the dollar you put in, and the machine spits the dollar right back out at you. So you check to make sure that you put it in the correct way and try again. Rejected again. You take the dollar out and you do what everyone does in that situation: you rub it on the corner of the machine hoping to get all the creases out of the dollar. You make sure all the corners are down, and try it again, but still rejected.
And then you start to get a little upset because what is going on? You need that Twix. Besides it’s a dollar bill. A dollar is a dollar! It may be a little crinkled up, it may be a little worn, but it’s still a dollar. It’s not like a fresh, pristine, dollar bill has more value than the one you’re holding, and yet it won’t take your dollar bill. What an evil vending machine.
We may not realize it, or we may not want to admit it, but we have more in common with that vending machine than we’d like to admit. We tend to be more accepting of people who have it all together, than those who don’t. That’s because…
Human nature causes all of us to play favorites
As humans we have favorites don’t we? We have a favorite food, restaurant, color, movie or TV show, we have a favorite memory, a favorite drink. Having favorites isn’t foreign to us. As we continue our study of the anatomy of a Christian, we see people who have Jesus living in their hearts, in other words, Christians, don’t play favorites when it comes to people. We are continuing through the book of James. Again, James was originally a letter written to Jewish Christians around 60 AD by Jesus’ half-brother James. Today, we pick up in James 2 beginning with verse 1.
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 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?
5 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? 6 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? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
The Christians James was writing too played favorites. If a rich and a poor person walked in, they would cater to the rich person’s needs but not the poor. They’d give the rich a prominent seat and told the poor to sit on the floor. That sounds a lot worse than it was. During this culture, not everyone had a chair. Only the prominent people had a seat or a bench to sit on. Normally everyone just sat on the floor cross legged. James point is that if they give the chair to the rich man because he is rich and looks nice, that’s favoritism, and he says not to discriminate.
Yet that’s human nature isn’t it? We see this happen every day in America. A judge doesn’t consider the facts of a case but looks to the reputation of the person on trial. Employers aren’t supposed to look at age, race, or gender when making a hire, and yet a person doesn’t get hired despite being the best qualified candidate. Rather the job goes to someone the employer knows. At school the teachers let students get away with things because they are friends with their parents. Racism and discrimination in America are symptoms of people playing favorites.
To be honest, we see it in our lives too. We do the same thing. When a stranger or someone we don’t really like does something wrong, we throw a fit, but when friend does that same wrong, we overlook. We tend to talk to and gravitate to the people we like and get along with, but ignore people we don’t really have anything in common with. Maybe even to the point of actively ignoring them. We look at age, gender, race, and the background of a person, and we generally tend to hang around people that look, act, and talk like us.
And what’s even worse is when it enters our church life. Have you ever hoped that a certain person doesn’t come to church because they would be hard to deal with? Because if that person would come to church it might scare other people away? Have you not invited a friend to church because of how it would reflect on you? How about the situation James brought up? What if someone in a suit walks in, and at the same time a homeless person walks in. Who would you be more willing to talk to? To sit by? It is a sad reality, but human nature causes us all to play favorites, and generally we favor the people who are nice to us and can help us, but we ignore those who need our help. And James wants us to know that…
No matter how you slice it, favoritism is a sin.
But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 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.
Here, James explains why favoritism is a sin. It’s not keeping the royal law, the golden rule, of loving others as yourself. If we are to keep the law of loving others as yourself, that means we would show favor to everyone, whether they are rich or poor. That’s because love overlooks such superficial distinctions such as wealth, quality of clothing, race, gender. In fact, love shows kindness to a person in spite of any negative qualities they may have.
So does that mean you can’t have a best friend? Does that mean you have to get along with everyone equally the same? No. Not at all. But it does mean that we don’t discriminate against others in favor of others. We treat people fairly, and when we don’t it’s a sin. How serious of a sin?
James tells us that if we keep the whole law and stumble just once, show just one little bit of favoritism, we are guilty of breaking it all. In fact, he goes on to say that there is no difference between murdering, committing adultery, and showing favoritism. The same God who says do not murder and do not commit adultery also said don’t show favoritism. And when we commit adultery, murder, or show favoritism, we aren’t loving others as ourselves.
A couple of weeks ago, I hit one of our glasses against our granite countertop on accident. It didn’t shatter the glass, but there was a crack in it. I have a tendency to be a bit of a pack rat, and so I didn’t want to throw it away if I didn’t have too. So I filled it up with water hoping that it could still be used. But as soon as I filled it up with water, the water began to come out of the crack. Even though it was just a tiny crack, the glass was no good anymore. So I had to throw it away.
In the eyes of the world, favoritism is just a little crack. It’s not like you murdered someone and completely shattered the glass. But in God’s eyes, it doesn’t matter if we are shattered or just have a little crack. Either way, we can no longer hold holiness in us, and we deserve to be thrown out. But thankfully for us…
Thankfully for us, God’s mercy triumphs
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Mercy is not getting what you deserve. So what do we deserve? We deserve to be thrown out just like that glass, but God doesn’t give us what we deserve. Instead he shows us mercy and he doesn’t throw us out. Instead he makes us whole once again. And that’s what Jesus did. He came to repair us and make us whole again. He didn’t use super glue or some kind of putty, but he fixed us using his perfect life and his blood that he shed on the cross.
Jesus, God himself, lived on this earth and never once had a crack; he never once was broken. He lived a life that was perfect and whole. And when he died on that cross, his blood took away all the brokenness from your life so that you are forgiven. Jesus took our brokenness and made us whole again. Essentially what God did was throw Jesus out, and kept us. Because of Jesus, God no longer sees someone with cracks and brokenness. He doesn’t see someone whose life is shattered with sin, but he sees someone who is whole, complete, and perfect. And we praise God for his mercy. We praise God that he didn’t give us what we deserved, but rather he gave us what we didn’t deserve.
And that helps us doesn’t it? When we realize that God had to throw Jesus out in order to save us, it fills us with mercy for others. Then our mercy will triumph over judgment and favoritism. And that’s what we want people to see. As Christians, we want people to see our true identity. Who we really are.
Our impartiality reveals our true identity
What is your true identity? You’re a child of God. Bought by the blood of Jesus. The risen Lord lives in your heart. In a world were favoritism and discrimination happen all over the place, we live differently. We help those who need help, we talk and care for people who might be harder to deal with. We treat everyone equally no matter what their age, race, gender, or occupation because we know that we are all in the need of God’s mercy.
Martin Luther, the church reformer, lived during the 1500’s. He was once quoted as saying, “We are just beggars showing other beggars where to find food.” Whether someone is rich or poor, easy to get along with or challenging personality, we are all simply broken glasses showing other broken glasses where they can be made whole again. That is only through Jesus.
When we are impartial, it shows that we understand that. It shows that we understand that no matter who they are, everyone is in the same need of God’s mercy just like we are. And we have the privilege of showing others what Christianity is all about. It’s about loving others, and one of the ways we do that is by being impartial. In a world that plays favorites, we don’t because we know that we are all the same. We all need the love and forgiveness that only Jesus can offer.
Praise God he isn’t like a vending machine. He wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. May he give us the strength to have the same attitude in our lives.