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In Christ, All Men Are Created Equal
Scripture: James 2:1-13
Track 3 of 12 in the Words to Grow By series
Running time: 35 minutes, 45 seconds.
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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, January 16, 2005
3rd sermon in an 11 part series
"In Christ, 'all men are created equal'"
"Words to Grow By"
(James 2:1-13)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

Daniel Buckley was ticket number 330920. He was one of the survivors of the Titanic. He survived because a well-intentioned woman threw a shawl over his head to make him look like a woman and he got in one of the life boats. He made it.

Dr. Washington Dodge made it. He was in boat #13. In a newspaper article carried in one of our major newspapers following this tragedy he recounted seeing 12 people from down under deck, the steerage passengers being shot because they were attempting to board boats ahead of those who were in first class. The "good" people that you just heard about. Impartiality!

USA Today carried an article not too long ago. There was a fellow by the name of John Barrier who wore his rather dirty construction clothes into the bank and after having made his transaction asked if they would validate his parking ticket. After giving him the kind of once-over and noticing how he was dressed, they refused to validate the parking ticket for him. So the next Monday morning he began to withdraw his money from the bank in $1 million increments. I think he wanted to be treated better. Impartiality!

One of my most joyous memories is watching three people sit right back here, over there, not in this building. If you use just a fairly reasonable cost of living index, the home of this older couple, Mr. and Mrs. Wright would probably sell for a 1/2 million dollars in today's money and sitting right next to them was a fella by the name of David who was your classic 1960's hippy transported into the 70's who lived by bumming off of people, mooching. Both, in the space of a few months, became Christians and it was a delight to see them sitting in the same pew, in the same church, every Sunday; Sunday after Sunday without any recognition of the difference in their social status. Impartiality!

One of my early mentors in ministry used to preach in Indiana back in the mid-part of the 1900's, 30's, 40's, 50's. Every year at the annual campaign to determine how much money they would have to spend in their budget, their process was to go first to the banker and he would, on the top line of the chart, write his name and how much he was giving each week, typically about $3.00 and then everybody knew that when they signed the chart and put how much money they were supposed to give, then they were to fall someplace under that. He was the wealthy man in town and so everybody knew that you couldn't do more than him without somehow embarrassing him.

Or a church that I'm aware of that had a policy that your voting power was determined by how long you had been a member and how much you gave in the offering. And somebody somewhere kept tabs of that sort of thing. So if they had to vote on something, then you had "X" number of votes based on some kind of multiplier of age times offerings. Impartiality!

Don't know whether you've had the privilege of sitting in first class seats. I got bumped into first class once on an international flight. It was a bad thing to have happen to me. It should have never happened because now I never want to sit back in the cattle car section again. I always wondered what happened when they closed those curtains. I always felt a little discriminated against when the light came on that said, "This is the First Class Section. You use the Restrooms in the Rear". Well, then I sat up there and found out what goes on up there and decided there's a little partiality going on here. Real plates and real food, real service. Impartiality!

I don't know that I have ever been really discriminated against. I'm not sure that I ever felt that. I felt it on the positive side once. I was asked to do a wedding at a church where they officiated in robes. I had never worn a robe before and frankly had to borrow one in order to do the wedding. But I remember being dressed in this clerical robe and realizing that as people came in the building they looked at me differently than when they looked at me just in my normal street clothes. In fact, several of our church members looked at me like this. . . . . . . . . It was an odd sort of a feeling. I think I gained a new appreciation of what Jesus meant when he said about those Pharisees and their long flowing robes and stuff and how that kind of set them apart from everybody.

I suppose as close as I ever came to that other kind of discrimination was one day when we were working on our church building and I was covered with some gravel and grit and dirt and we got an emergency at the hospital and I didn't have time to even think about changing clothes. I hopped in my car. I drove to the hospital. I ran up into the area where this family was and I had people stopping me and saying, "You can't come in here." I did the only thing any self-respecting preacher could do, I said "I'm the preacher" and of course, they opened the door and let me in. They just couldn't figure out why I looked like I did.

Ya know, I don't know what it feels like to actually be discriminated against. I've had students that do. LC Sutton, who came from the projects in Joliet told me that there was hardly a Sunday night that he drove back into town from his ministry, that he wasn't stopped by the Lincoln police just to check his license again. That's what happens when you're African-American in a good white middle-class town.

I think of Lagesse` Awoke`(???) who sat in my class out on the East Coast and who spent time in prison in Yemen simply because he was a Christian.

They know discrimination!

Well, that's what our text is about. Our text is about discrimination. It's about partiality. It's about impartiality. It's about recognizing that God sees people differently than most of us do.

We're in James 2. If you want to have your Bibles open we're going to read these first thirteen verses and then we'll just simply walk our way through it and talk about some of the implications of what it might mean to us.

James 2: 1-13 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man is shabby 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?

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and so inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted 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 slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

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. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

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!

Let me set this in its context. If you remember right, we've been looking at James 1. James 1 talks about a religion that is pleasing to God. It talks about a relationship with God that somehow begins to shape and form the kinds of people that we become. There is a life that is acceptable to him. It's a holy life. It's a righteous life. It's a selfless life. And there is a religious perspective. There is a relationship with God that is defined as pure and acceptable and that he says is to take care of the homeless, to take care of the orphan, the widow. To be concerned about the marginalized person in the world and to keep yourself separated from the world's standards.

He comes along now in the midst of this Jewish audience and he says, don't show favoritism, don't be partial. This good Jewish audience to which James writes would have fully understood that message. They would have had that kind of history with God. They would have known their Old Testaments well and they would have remembered verses like this.

Deuteronomy 1:17 says, Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God. Moses said that to his co-workers as he was dividing up the responsibility of how to lead Israel. Don't show partiality. Judge all men the same.

If you come over a bit further in the book of Deuteronomy, Deuteronomy 10 where he's again laying out the kinds of things that God is going to expect of his people. He says in Deuteronomy 10:17 For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Don't show partiality. Don't forget that you were redeemed from an alien nation.

Back up just a book to the book of Leviticus. Back in Leviticus 19 as God is beginning to share with them again how Israel is supposed to conduct itself. He says in Leviticus 19:15 "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly." They understood this principle, don't show partiality. Don't show favoritism. It was part of their heritage. It was part of their history. They understood it.

And as James begins to unfold this, he begins to share with us some of the implications of what it means when we practice a kind of favoritism toward a certain group of people rather than treating all people the same. One of those implications is found in James 2:1-4. He says simply this, favoritism reveals impure motives. Then he uses this illustration. I'm guessing that it's a made-up illustration. I don't know that it would have necessarily been happening though it does certainly imply that in the church, in the assembly, when worship was occurring, both rich and poor were in attendance. He says, so let's assume that in church somebody who is wealthy and that would have been, by the way, very, very evident in Roman culture because most people were poor. About 90% of the folks would have been considered peasants. About 8% of the people would have been very wealthy. There was no such thing as a middle class in Roman days. That's a product of the industrial revolution. So you were either here or you were here and there weren't many who were here. But those who were there dressed the part. White robes, tunics that were bright and clean, expensive jewelry. You could see them instantly in Roman society. They even had names for them, certain classes of people and where that money originated. Was it old money, was it new money? Were they a part of the government or not? Let's assume that a rich man comes in and the text says, you look on them with favoritism and literally it means you "hurry your eyes to them". And you say to them, oh, we've got a great seat for you right up here in the front. By the way, it's obvious that this is first century, not twenty-first century because the best seats are not in the front any more. They're back there where you have to pay to get a back seat. Rush them to the front. And then a poor man comes in. Well, you can tell a poor man, when the poor man comes in, the poor man looks like a poor man. He probably smells like a poor man. And he says, oh, oh, well, you sit over here.

J. B. Phillips translates that or paraphrases that particular passage, he says, "if you gotta sit someplace, sit over here on the floor".

He says if that's the way conduct yourself you are demonstrating a kind of motive that shows that you don't fully understand what it is that this is all about.

Calvin Miller tells a story of getting ready to preach one day. In fact, he was already standing on the stage when a young man came walking through the double doors in the back. He was, well. . . .let's just say he was different looking. Shall we? Like he didn't quite fit in this congregation. Not dressed the part. And it was crowded. Wasn't really any place that he could sit so he just came up and he sat down on the floor right here in the middle so he could hear.

One of the older more respected members of the church got up, cane in hand, dressed in his 3-piece suit began to make his way up the aisle. Everybody assumed that it was in order to take care of business. Miller said he just stood there and waited to see what would happen and the old man laid his cane down and with great pain sat down on the floor next to this young man.

Miller's opening words were "you probably won't remember a thing I say today, but you will never forget the sermon you just saw". Partiality!

James says, don't show favoritism.

In James 2:5-7 he says that favoritism produces or betrays a kind of foolish optimism so don't be partial. Look again. It's this rather interesting passage where you ask this question, hasn't God chosen those who are poor to be rich in faith and inherit the kingdom? But you have insulted the poor because it's the rich who are exploiting you. They are the ones dragging you into court. They are the ones slandering the noble name of the one to whom you belong.

His explanation is really very simple. In this particular culture it was not uncommon at all for poor people to be in debt to rich people and for those rich people to exploit those poor people, and, in some way to draw them in to court, to try to get money from them, send them to debtors prison, to abuse them. Now it's hard. I just confess to you. It's hard for me to even find in my imagination that kind of scenario where people who are well off abuse those who are not. I mean, it doesn't even make sense. My mind just can't get quite around how it helps to put a poor man in prison if he owes you money. I mean, my common sense says put him to work and let him earn some money so he can pay you back. Don't take him out of the workplace, put him in the workplace, but that's not how they work.

It's. . . .I guess I just grew up in a family where you didn't exploit people. Ya know? My father was one of those generous people who gave stuff away. He didn't try to take stuff.

Have you followed any of the stories of the tsunami? And the kidnaped children that they suspect have been taken into slavery in Southeast Asia?

The New York Times Magazine yesterday ran an article about the sex slave trade of teenage girls in Cambodia. It used to be pretty much an underground sort of a thing and you had to, well, you had to be European or American to be able to get on a tour that took you to the appropriate places. That's not true any more. In Phnom Penh there us a major hotel in the downtown section that now has an aquarium. You go to the sixth floor and behind the glass wall are dozens of teenage girls with numbers on them and you select them by number. It's hard to imagine isn't it? The rich abusing the poor like that.

James says the problem in our situation is that you think by making friends of the rich you're somehow gonna fix that problem. That if you befriend the rich, if somehow you come along side the exploiter, that you may somehow get them to stop being that way. James says that's a false kind of optimism because those people who exploit other people are by nature, blaspheming the holy name of God and they are not going to be changed just cause you happen to try to sidle up next to them and make friends out of them. It will not stop them from doing what they do.

You have to hope what James was talking about is something that has disappeared from our culture. That we no longer have people exploiting other people though it's hard to believe that we don't.

Well, he says there's a third implication and that is that favoritism produces sin so as an alternative he says, keep the "royal law". James 2:8 If you really keep the royal law. . . .he called it in James 1 this law that produces freedom, that gives freedom, this perfect law. He says in James 2:12 later in our text, this is the law that gives freedom and he quotes specifically Leviticus 19:18 you remember the law, this royal law. Love your neighbor as yourself. You know that's the most often quoted verse in the New Testament from the Old Testament. That particular text, Love your neighbor as yourself is referred to in the New Testament on nine different occasions. More than any other verse in the Old Testament. Let me just show you two or three places where that comes over to the New Testament.

Look at Matthew 22. When Jesus is speaking, one of the things that happens in the latter part of his life is that there are these occasions when folks are trying to challenge his authority. Trying to trap him and in one of those conversations Matthew 22, you get this question. Matthew 22:36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?" Wasn't an uncommon question. But it was a bit of an uncommon answer.

Jesus replied: (in Matthew 22:37) " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." This perfect law of liberty, he says.

Come over to John 13. As Jesus again comes down toward the end of his life in John's Gospel which is a bit different than the other gospels. He is in the process of sharing this new life that the disciples are supposed to demonstrate. In John 13:34 he puts it in this context. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."

If you come over to the book of Romans 13 the apostle Paul captures this particular Old Testament text of loving your neighbor as yourself. In Romans 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal, "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

He says that you can take all of that Old Testament; you can take those Ten Commandments and every other law ever given and you can wrap it up in this one statement: "Love your neighbor as yourself." because Love does no harm to its neighbor.

He would say it again in Galatians 5 as he wrote to these churches in Central Asia. He would say in Galatians 5:14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. The application of this particular text is pretty simple. We are supposed to keep this "royal law", this law that gives us liberty. And he simply says, don't treat people the same as the world treats people. The world treats people by differentiating between rich and poor, by looking on external appearances, by looking at positions of power, by looking at their status. Well, frankly, by looking at their looks. He says, don't look at people that way any more. The simple standard in the church is to look at people the way God looks at people.

Do you recall that text in 2Corinthians 5 where Paul is talking about the fact that we are all new creatures in Christ. If anyone is in Christ, everything has become new?

The verse just ahead of that one, 2Corinthians 5:16 says, we no longer look at people according to the flesh. We used to look at Jesus that way, but we don't look at him that way any more.

Have you noticed that the American culture is enamored with external appearance? Have you paid any attention to the kind of stuff that's on television, the ultimate make-overs. Where people just don't look good enough and so their moms and their dads and their husbands and their uncles send them off to someplace to get plastic surgery and weight lifting and diets because they don't like the way they appear. I've sat and thought, I wonder how I would feel if my mother said, "Man, your ugly. Let me send you to California and get you lookin' better." Of course you don't know that she didn't say that. This is what happened. Soooooooo.. . . . .just think what could have been.

James says, if you fulfill the ultimate law, the external appearance doesn't matter. If you love your neighbor like you love yourself. . . . . . now my kids were good at that. I, forgive me, this is going to sound a little harsh. But I have three daughters and they were all the time bringing home "stray cats". I don't mean cats, however. I mean John, Jim, and George. If I could have gone through town and picked out every kid I did not want my daughters to have anything to do with, guess who showed up? They understood something that I don't think I fully understood and that is, you don't look on the outside of a person at their appearance. You look at the heart and you look for what's in there that might have value.

James says practice this law of love, this "royal law". He says demonstrate kindness to everybody. Just be nice to people. Treat them like you would like to be treated. I remember. . . . I was preaching in a church one Sunday morning and they had a big, large stage and three or four steps down and at the end of the sermon somebody came up to the front, and rather than coming up to the top to the preacher they just went over here and they got down on their knees and they began to pray. And about that time, Larry got up. Now I think Larry understood this because Larry was Hispanic and he was married to an African-American woman and he was just a bit of a social outcast in this rather white middle-class church. And he came up and he got down on his knees next to this fella and he put his arm around him and the two of them stayed there for probably 30 minutes just praying together. No partiality here. Just treat people the way you want to be treated yourself. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Be kind to each other. Treat each other with some grace. That's true I think even when we greet one another. You know I. . . .I don't know what you do when you greet one another. I stand over here and I kind of greet the people in this neighborhood. I'm gonna have to start sittin' someplace else cause frankly, I'm tired of greeting you guys! But isn't it just a temptation to greet the people you know? Just to greet the people you already like? Did you ever think of just stepping outside of that just a little and greeting somebody you've never met before?

Or, in the hallways. . . .you know the danger is this. . . . .Hi, I'm Chuck, um. . .I don't know if we've ever met. Have you been here before? "Yeah, I've been a member here for fifteen years!" (Big sigh!!!!!) Yes, it happens to me pretty regularly and it's a danger that you face.

But if you've ever been to one of those churches where you walked in and you walked out and nobody ever even smiled, much less said hi. I'll take the fact that you didn't recognize me for fifteen years over that. And of course it extends beyond this building a great deal. Some of you are kind enough to walk up and embarrass me in places in stores. Huh! And greet me as the preacher and I think "okay". That's why I smile a lot and I try not to get in any trouble out on the street cause I'm apt to run into one of you.

I, I learned something. It's strange when you get out of the country because ya know, I don't know what you do, but, you know, somehow the medical profession in the United States has been elevated and everybody treats doctors with deference and all that kind of stuff. In Eastern Europe. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .in the system everybody got paid by the government so if you wanted to make any money, you had to do it under the table and in order to get money under the table, you had to have something to offer to people that nobody else could offer and doctors had something to offer and so they did a lot of stuff under the table. And, so rather than being way up on the social scale, they were way down on the social scale. They were kind of like snails except for my friend Ghitza. Ghitza was my translator in Romania and Ghitza was a doctor. I was walking around town one afternoon when we had a little break and he was kind of showing me different things, places where the Romanian revolution started for example. And people would walk up to him on the street and they'd greet him at Dr. Ghitza and they'd begin asking him and he would be giving out medical advice. I mean, anything you can do on the side of the street and you could just tell that here was a man who had treated people with dignity and they loved him.

Wouldn't that make a huge difference if we just treated people nicely in the name of Jesus? James says, just don't allow discrimination.

I was in my back alley one day working. Down the alley from me is where the Johnson's lived. My daughter went to school with their daughter Ebony. Henry is a Chaplain out at the prison in Lincoln. He happens to be an African-American. He walked by with his dog and I was talking to my neighbor. And after Henry got, I think, out of ear shot, my neighbor turned to me and said something like this, ya know, he's not so bad for one of them. I stood there for a minute trying to figure out how to respond to that and I ended up not saying anything at all. And I feel like somehow I owe Henry an apology for not saying something. That I allowed discrimination to occur in my presence and I didn't do anything about it. It haunts me yet today.

James says the royal law is to Love One Another. Well he comes to the end of this text, James 2:12-13 and he says basically that favoritism results in God's judgment. Therefore you really ought to practice mercy. Did you notice this? 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. Sounds a lot like Matthew 7 doesn't it? Judge and you're gonna be judged. The way you judge, you're gonna be judged. It sounds a lot like Luke 6:40 Give mercy so that you will receive mercy. Give forgiveness so that you will receive forgiveness. James understands that in God's great economy, those who have received mercy should be the ones who are most ready to show mercy.

Jesus even tells that great story about the unmerciful servant who was forgiven a debt of enormous proportions, the kind of debt that is beyond our ability to even imagine. And, then someone who owes him a minor debt comes and rather than showing him the same amount of mercy. He refuses to show the mercy and God comes along (at least that's the way the story ends). The king comes back and says, if you're not going to show mercy, you don't get mercy and he sends him off to prison.

It's a basic Biblical principle that we will be given mercy if we show mercy because mercy even triumphs over God's judgment.

One of the marks in Matthew 25 of the sheep is that they showed mercy. Not that showing mercy is what redeems you. Showing mercy is what reflects that you have been redeemed. Mercy is given by people who have experienced great mercy and just in case you didn't know this, if you're a Christian, you've been shown great mercy because God isn't gonna give you what you deserve. And so he simply says, don't show favoritism. Treat people the way I treat them. Look at them through my eyes. Show them grace when they need grace and mercy when they need mercy.

Paul says it this way in Romans 2:11 "God shows no partiality" so don't you.

I just read. There's a fella whose name is Jade Hanson. He is the world record holder knife thrower. His record is he's been able to throw 120 knives in two minutes. Now the reason the story made the news is because on this particular attempt to match his record of 120 knives in two minutes he happened to nick the head of his assistant. His quotation is this. "I suppose in ten years, I've only hit her five times." I'm thinking, "foolish assistant". Even the world's best knife thrower misses once in awhile.

And the world's best people will never quite live up to the standard will they? And the only way that we have hope in this life is not by being able to throw perfectly and never miss the mark, but because somebody who is full of mercy extends to us, grace and mercy because we have missed the mark. And because we have received that kind of mercy from God, he says, don't show partiality, you show mercy to other people as well.

Would you stand with me while we sing this song?