My dear brothers and sisters, you are believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. So don’t treat some people better than others. 2 Suppose someone comes into your meeting wearing very nice clothes and a gold ring. At the same time a poor person comes in wearing old, dirty clothes. 3 You show special attention to the person wearing nice clothes. You say, “Sit here in this good seat.” But you say to the poor person, “Stand there!” or “Sit on the floor by our feet!” 4 Doesn’t this show that you think some people are more important than others? You set yourselves up as judges—judges who make bad decisions. (ERV)
Question: How can you tell if you are in a friendly church? It’s friendly! All across America I have heard of people who have joined a particular church only to discover that a few of its members are unfriendly or they associate only with certain members. You can pass by them and speak; they will give you a very dry hello or not even respond at all.
You’ve been there two or three months and no one including the pastor has taken the time to get to know you…on the surface they are friendly enough, but you still have not developed any meaningful relationships in this church? Yet the people in that church think they are the friendliest church on the planet? It could be that a few of them are simply snobs in the sanctuary who are partial; they play favorites, and are a bit judgmental and prejudice.
Now, I am cognizant of the fact that this can and probably will be considered a controversial issue or thought although I am not trying to be controversial in the least. However we are called to be fearless disciples and there are many people who are looking for acceptance and not the one-minded philosophy of big ‘I’s’ and little ‘U’s’ in the church, because then we become cult-like rather than church-like when certain issues are categorically labeled taboo and must not ever be discussed in any forum.
But God created us to live relationally with each other. He instructs us and warns us, that playing favorites, or prejudging people, and being a snob is wrong and that there are consequences for such behavior. He holds out a better way – practice love and care for each other. Favoritism hurts plain and simple, anywhere cronyism and favoritism goes unchecked is actually an unhappy place—especially if it is in the Church. It just may be the reason for the revolving doors so many churches see in their congregations today.
In our text of Scripture today, James deals with the subject of partiality. The Greek word translated “partiality” literally means, “to accept the face” of someone. Most of the time it is derived from church cliques or even from a pastor who shows favoritism only to members he has deemed loyal to him, and because of their devotion to ‘him’ he will reward them for all to see that their loyalty to ‘him’ has dividends and benefits. I’ve seen many pastors filled with humility, and sadly I’ve seen a few who are a bit arrogant and narcissistic. I really believe that eventually the entire church body can sometimes take on the characteristics of its leader—show me a humble pastor and I’ll show you a humble church. Show me an arrogant pastor and I’ll show you an arrogant church filled with snobs.
When the church is partial and the pastor is partial, many problems are guaranteed to surface within the church body.
The Charge Against Showing Partiality
James, the writer of this epistle, was the biological brother of our Lord (Matt. 13: 55). When James spoke about partiality in the church he knew exactly what he was talking about. If you want to know about his credentials, he succeeded Simon Peter when Peter left on his missionary journey and pastored the great Jerusalem church, which was the mother church of Christianity.
In this epistle, he spoke concerning the trials and temptations common to every believer, which included the subject of favoritism and partiality. Today, here in the year 2013 this subject or topic is seldom preached about, perhaps it may hurt a few feelings or even run a few members away should it be discussed openly—however it must be addressed. I know the word ‘snob’ is an ugly word, if you stand toe to toe with a man and call him a snob it may cause a fight in the church parking lot, and we don’t want that to happen. But what is a snob? By definition a snob is a person with an exaggerated respect for high social position who dislikes people or activities regarded as lower class.
They are people who believe that their tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people: they often believe what they have whether it’s education, money, all sorts of material possessions, et cetera, places them over and above those who do not have such things. In the church he or she are the “holier than thou" individual who wears hisher spirituality on hisher sleeve for all to see. They are quick to criticize others for their shortcomings with a great big log in their own eye. Such a person shows a bias toward his/her idea of righteousness, which, as we know, is called "self-righteousness." In short, they have what is known as a “Pharisaic Pomposity.”
And here, James gives them and all of us a charge that says, we are the very people who SHOULD NOT show partiality or favoritism in any form or fashion. Everyone in the church is my brother and my sister. If I earn only $12,000 a year and you earn $120,000 a year, we’re still brothers and sisters. If I have a GED, and you have a PhD., we still have the same Father. We have absolutely no business whatsoever snubbing each in the church simply because one earns a nickel more an hour than the other. I believe James gave this charge because there is dangers in showing favoritism and snobbery in the church: first, it equates spiritual maturity with ministry success, the danger of this is the possibility of becoming more concerned with being godly than with God Himself just like the Pharisee.
And then there is, godliness by association and the danger of this is the assumption that the godliness of other successful and influential Christians would somehow rub off on you. Thus it causes you ignore or stay away from that brother or sister who is not quite successful or influential.
Partiality Sets One Up As Judge And Jury
For sure the “judging committees” do have their place in talent shows and cooking shows and beauty contests but never, never, in the church. However, in some of our churches this does exist. I remember as a child, watching an usher send away a visitor with her two little children because she wore pants instead of a dress. As a child, I wondered what difference does it make what a person wears to church as long as what they wear is decent? It makes no difference at all, but this usher took it upon herself to admonish and send this lady away, not realizing or giving any thought that God may have a Word specifically for this particular young lady for that particular day.
James illustrates for us, he says two unbelievers visits the church. One is sharply dressed, very well groomed; he was so sharp until you could not help but notice him. He was clean to the bone, so to speak. He just had to be wealthy with that large diamond rock on his finger, and that diamond crusted Rolex watch on his wrist. Someone saw him stepping out of that 2013 GS series Lexus; he just had to be someone of great importance and would surely make a wonderful member of the congregation, someone needs to witness to him immediately and make him feel welcome.
But on the same Sunday at same church, there’s another brother who attends the services. He is an unshaven and shabbily dressed brother; it is noticed immediately that he is as poor as a church mouse, and that’s pretty poor. In fact, it is obvious that he lives in the streets or sometimes in city’s homeless shelter if there is enough room for him. Again, the clothes he has on is dirty and smelly because simply put he is a derelict from off the streets.
Now is the time for the judging committee to do what they do best. They have to decide what happens when these two very different brothers enter the sanctuary. They both represent the extreme ends of wealth and poverty, they both are in need of salvation, they both need to hear a Word from God. More importantly, they are both equally loved by God Himself, because God is ‘no respecter of person.’ Now where oh where should they sit during the church service? If this decision is left up to the church’s esteem judging committee, of course the well dressed brother should be escorted to a good seat, possibly up front somewhere in order for the pastor and everyone esle to see him and welcome him and fervently acknowledge his presence.
Somebody asked, “Where should we put this other brother? You know, the homeless guy.” “We’ll just let him stand somewhere in the back of the church, way, way, in the back of the church somewhere away from the people— because we really don’t want any distractions this fine Sunday morning. And hopefully before the service is over he will just—go away.” This is exactly what James is speaking of in the text.
I doubt if there is any church that would go to this sinful extreme, God forbid, but it does illustrate just how ugly and foolish partiality in the church really is. James is just bringing home the point that there ought not be any snobs in the sanctuary. We ought to be able to at least speak to one another and give each other a great big smile without endeavoring to set ourselves up as both judge and jury. If you find someone without smile, give them yours.
Partiality Reveals Evil Thoughts
In Matthew 15: 19, it is written, “…out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Evil thoughts are listed right there along with the other grave sins of murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander, and these are all the deeds of a corrupt heart. And so partiality in essence reveals a corrupt heart that is within us, when we endeavor to make a difference between one brother and sister from another.
The person who shows partiality often focuses on very trivial, mundane, and changeable things. Sadly, their focus is on such things as clothes, houses, cars, and any and all kinds of outward things. They focus on the outward appearance, on temporal objects and situations. Evil thoughts about our brothers and sisters in the church is perhaps more prevalent than we may think and extremely, extremely serious. Think of it this way in Habakkuk 2: 20 we read, “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” And in Matthew 18: 20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." God is with us as we come to praise and worship in His temple or His Church and we are filled with evil thoughts about one of His creations?
Solomon points out in I Kings 8:39 and II Chronicles 6:30 that only God knows the hearts of men. It is a characteristic of deity and it is one of the reasons we know that Jesus is God because He knew the hearts or thoughts of His audience. As we sit there in the pew, the choir loft, or the pulpit going over what we dislike or even hate about this person or that person the Lord is fully aware of each and every thought. If we call ourselves Christians, if we are to be like Christ, we must be aware of all our thoughts, actions and motives.
We need to be aware of how we treat each other in God’s house because it is an extremely serious matter. To harbor a snobbish attitude towards our brothers and our sisters has no place in the house of God. It is a SIN! Sins committed without awareness are a problem for many people today. We just move forward without thinking about what we are doing or we have done it for so long it just does not seem like a sin anymore but it still is. Christian believers should never show partiality towards one another, there should not one snob in the sanctuary at any given time. And if there is, he or she should go on bending knees pleading with the Lord for forgiveness and then repent. Amen.