James: For Richer or For Poorer – 3

Pastor Dan Borgelt
Kirkmont Presbyterian Church
3377 Shakertown Rd
Beavercreek, OH 45434

AUDIO -James 2:1-18

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Pastor Dan: “As a pastor I’ve had the opportunity to do many weddings; in fact in my seven years in Minnesota I went through this season where I was getting an unusual number of calls and for a while it kinda got to my head. I thought to myself, “Hey, I must be doing pretty well at weddings… ” then I found out I was the cheapest pastor in the community (laughter). So we raised our prices and the calls stopped coming in.

The trend today is for people to write their own vows; some are cool, but I prefer the traditional ones because the current ones seem to be “less committal”. However the traditional ones are not without criticism. Take the most famous line from traditional wedding vows, “For richer or for poorer”. What do we mean by this?  It sounds kinda nice and sweet like we’re saying to someone, “I’m going to love you no matter what”.  But the fact that we actually have to say that sort of implies something about the condition of our hearts.

Think about the “for richer” part… really?  When’s the last time you heard of a couple that was getting a divorce because when they got married he was only making $40, 000 but a few years later he was making $70,000. “Well… I was OK with $40K but now that you’re making more money, that’s not going to work for me… the “for richer” part.

We skip right past “for richer” part because the reason we say it we want to get to the “for poorer” part.  Because we have ingrained in us a tendency to value people more based on how much they’re worth, how much money they have… so what we have to do is go out of our way to say, “I will love you even if you have LESS than you have now.

It kind of says something about the condition of our hearts that we would even have to make that statement, doesn’t it?  “For richer or for poorer”. We have a tendency to favor people based on how much money, value or net worth they have. This morning we”re going to find out that the church is not immune to such favoritism.  In fact, the church just doesn’t show favoritism towards people economically, but it also shows favoritism for all different kinds of reasons.

As a pastor I’ve had the opportunity to go to all kinds of seminars about how people can grow the church; and I’ve never heard someone get up and talk about how you can reach more old people at your church.  Every seminar I’ve ever heard is here’s how to get young families and kids… so there’s sort of an age-favoritism that happens in the church. There’s all kinds of favoritisms… there’s gender favoritism, race, skin color, style of dress… all kinds of different favoritism that has reached the church.

Some churches show favoritism so much it’s like it’s one of their favorite things to do.

So let me ask you this morning… if Jesus himself was not too good for anyone, then who are you too good for?

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I want to invite you to a passage as we continue in our series through the book of James. James the half-brother of Jesus is starting to deal with the subject in James 2:1-13. We’re going to read these verses together; Scripture tells us this.

Favoritism Forbidden
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 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.  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 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?  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?

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, “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.

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.”

His first verse serves as the foundation for everything we’re going to be talking about this morning… this idea that as believers in our glorious Lord, Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.

This whole subject about favoritism and not showing it, is not something we do in spite of the fact that we have a relationship with Jesus Christ; it’s not something we do in addition to our relationship with Jesus Christ;  it’s something we do because of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ ministry sets the precedent for what type of people we are supposed to become when it comes to the subject of favoritism.

Jesus was constantly speaking to the people who everyone else around him told him he shouldn’t be talking to;  and he wasn’t just giving them a cheap smile and greeting as they walked in the door, he was in their homes eating with them, he was healing them, he was constantly being with the people whom every one else around Him said that he shouldn’t be there; who others had written off; and here is Jesus Christ the one who’s with them.

James is saying it’s inconsistent for you and I to consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus Christ and yet to show favoritism, when clearly from Christ’s life that is not who he was in anyway at all.

If you show me a church that shows favoritism, and values certain friendships and certain people over others, I can almost always show you a church that does not value the idea of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Because we cannot be followers of Christ and show favoritism towards certain people and exclude others for very long before God begins to convict us of that reality.

James…  as we’ve said James, the person writing this, is the half-brother of Jesus.  If there was anyone who could have potentially fallen into the temptation of this sort of elitism class of Christianity it would have been him.   It would have served him well to say there are classes in the church and as the half-brother of Jesus I’m at the top.  If there was anyone who could have fallen into the temptation of saying that the church ought to favor some people over others James the half-brother of Jesus would’ve had a lot to gain from that. But instead as the half-brother of Jesus who knew him very well he understood that it was completely inconsistent for a church to value some people over others and call themselves followers of Jesus Christ.

The Scripture goes to tell us this (James 2:2-4)
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.` 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?

It reads at this point that maybe James is presenting a hypothetical situation — “suppose a man comes in”. But we understand from reading the whole passage that he was actually dealing with an early church that treated people differently based on their economic status in life,

And the way they treated people differently was something we probably can’t relate to. Apparently back then there were certain places when they gathered for worship that were greater places of honor; there were certain places to sit down that were lesser places of honor… and then if you didn’t qualify for either of those you could either stand or sit on the floor for the duration of the service.

How many people do you think would stick around for an hour if we made them sit on the floor?

But these are the different options, and they showed favoritism by honoring certain people by giving them certain places of Honor because of their economic situation in life. We we don’t do that, right? … because if we honored them by having them sit in the front row they’d be horrified; and we told them to sit in the back row then they’d be insulted.  So we just give people a bulletin around here and you can sit wherever you want. So we really can’t relate to this whole idea of showing favoritism based on where people sit… except, there is one way that the modern church still does that…

Friends… if you ever want to see me get mad at you… then walk in the church here on Sunday morning and go up to someone and tell them they are seated in your seat (laughter).  And I will get mad and I won’t apologize because you’ve been forewarned and you deserve it… that is SO ridiculous.

That’s probably the closest way that that happens, but we show economic favoritism in all kinds of other different ways…  not necessarily through seating.

Early in my ministry… (this is a confession story)… early in my ministry, a church I worked at had a scholarship, and the scholarship could be given to college students who met certain criteria; and one of the teenagers had applied and our ruling body was discussing whether or not this should get the scholarship.  It was clear on paper the student didn’t fit the criteria.

So the session was about to say “no”.  Well, I knew they had recently struggled to pay the interim pastor each week… it was that tight financially. And I had a pretty good sense that this person’s father was a charter member of the Church and probably one of our best supporters financially.

And I had this thought that went through my head… and it was a bad thought; and worse, I SPOKE THE THOUGHT (laughter).  And I said, “are you all sure we want to say no?” … and you know that thanks be to God we had a Godly session who said YES, WE’RE SURE WE WANT TO SAY NO because we don’t treat people differently here based on how much money they have or don’t have. And I KNEW THEY WERE RIGHT… and I had this moment of temptation and slipped in and said that.  And I’m thankful for that early mistake because it’s something that I feel like I’ve learned and understand fully ever since then.

… that you are never going to be treated around here based on how much you give or don’t give (I really don’t know those details). In fact, I’ve become almost the opposite of that. If you ever request something of me or want me to make a decision that affects the body of believers’ here and you preface it with the idea that you’re a charter member, or you’ve been tithing for so many years… I will probably say no just because of that (light laughter).

We show favoritism economically in all kinds of different ways.

Now I’m going to sit down on this stool. It will be our ongoing reminder to you that when I rest my feet I’m about to step on yours [laughter].

In our last church, we needed to clean house; the church building had become storage; that happens when you’re not thriving in your ministry, you don’t need the space so you just start putting stuff in them. We needed to clean house; we rented some dumpsters and were throwing some things away and I came across a VCR… some of you all don’t even know what a VCR is.. kids.. (laughter). There was a VCR and I thought, well, I’m gonna just throw this away; but I wanted to do due diligence so I hooked it up, it didn’t work and then I was justified in throwing it away.

However, as I went to throw it away I looked down and wouldn’t you know it, on that VCR there was a gold plaque… someone had bought the VCR and the church put a gold plaque on the VCR to let everybody know who had bought the VCR for the church.

Btw… does Kirkmont have any plaques around? … (silent smiles)… that’s a joke guys (laughter)… we’ve got plaques all over the place here.

Now look, I want to be clear about something before I step on toes.  I realized that God has used some of you and your loved ones who are willing to give sacrificially in great ways to this church; and I don’t undermine that at all.  But we do need to consider whether or not as a church we have a tendency to value certain people who have the economic situation to help us in some ways better than other people; we need to make sure we’re sensitive about that.

We need to make sure that if you’re here and you don’t have two nickels to drop in the offering plate, you’re still loved, and welcomed, and honored, and valued here. And one of the things my last church had gotten to before I left was to place any of those types of donations were going to be put in one place, we weren’t going to put plaques on anything, because when we do we can’t change it; and it was only there because it was effective; and as soon as it becomes ineffective we should change it.  This is not a museum; it’s a place to do missional work. We have a task before God that we are to accomplish and it is even greater than remembering the past. It is honoring the fact that there are people who don’t know Jesus in the present; and we are supposed to reach out there and be effective in ministering to them.

Imagine of you bought your 5 year old granddaughter a Dora The Explorer bicycle. Ten years later you found out that now at age 15 your teenage granddaughter was still riding around on that same bicycle. You say, “Why are you still riding around in that bike?” … “well… you know, you bought it for me and I didn’t want to offend you by moving on and getting rid of it.”  And you’d say, “I just bought you the bike because you needed one at the time… I understood you wouldn’t use it for the rest of your life..”

And sometimes churches do that… people give us wonderful donations and they serve a purpose for a time but if we insist on using them ongoing, it may not always be the most effective way to “do church”.

And that’s one of the ways that churches show favoritism economically… they label.. you’ve heard horror stories about churches who publish who did what, and who doesn’t give, and all kinds of different things so inconsistent with the Scripture.

There are other ways the church shows favoritism that aren’t economical… in just the general way that people are treated when they walk into church. And we all know that there are churches all across this country that if you don’t look the right way… if you don’t act the right way… if your breath smells a certain way… you say certain things… you’re going to be treated differently than other people who are there.

To tackle that.. let me ask you a few questions:
1. Can any-one become an elder or one of the leaders of the church here.  NO.  We have criteria to become an elder. You must first become a MEMBER of the church and then we are looking, as the Bible says, for people who have leadership characteristics and who show that they are followers of Christ, committed to the church and want to lead other people and shepherd them, Those folks we look for to be elders of the church.

  1. Now let me ask you.. who can become a MEMBER of the church? All we really need is to know that you love the Lord Jesus Christ. And in our denomination we have something known as the “Seven Essentials of the Faith”.   http://www.epc.org/about-the-epc/beliefs/essentials-of-our-faith/

And if you think about how big the Bible is, I think it’s really cool how we’ve just boiled it down to just seven things. In our membership classes we’d go over those seven and say, “Are you OK with these… ” and between those two things you become a member of the church.


When churches understand that distinction, they become better at opening up their doors. Because they realized they’re not opening up their doors for everyone to become an elder; they’re not even opening up their doors for everyone to become a member; but they ARE saying, THIS IS A PUBLIC WORSHIP SPACE AND ANY-ONE CAN WALK IN HERE AND EXPERIENCE A WORSHIP SERVICE AND OUR FRIENDSHIP AS WELL.

Now you hear that and some of you say, “we just left a denomination that was way more liberal than we are and I’m a little concerned about the way you’re talking pastor… we’ve got standards around here… I mean we believe the Bible around here teaches that we should be a pro-life church” .. OK, fine (I say) I totally support that God created life and we should protect them.

You say, “Pastor, we believe the Bible supports traditional marriage between a man and a woman.” I agree with you, that’s what the Bible teaches and supports.  You say, “well pastor we believe that drunkenness is wrong and people shouldn’t smoke because the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” and on and on and on… I agree.. I agree… I agree… BUT.. our abortion having lesbian, with alcohol on her breath who put out two cigarettes in the parking lot, who walks in here on Sunday morning, should be the recipient of your friendship and feel totally welcome here on Sunday morning.

There is a big difference between having STANDARDS and showing favoritism… and you can have standards without showing favoritism.  You can not show favoritism and still have standards. And that is what James is after here… that we as a church in modeling Christ’s ministry, ought to minister to and love ANYone who walks in the door.

James 2: vs 5-7, the Scripture tells us
“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? 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?

If you were here with us through Chapter one, the language towards the wealthy was really strong, and perhaps troubling to some of you. And we get an indication as to why… it wasn’t the Bible just condemning all people who are wealthy;  we understand from here now that there were rich people in the early church who were not only being shown favoritism by the leaders but they were in the midst of exploiting the poor people, some of them right there in their own church; and the leaders were honoring them over the poor people in the midst of that behavior.

God is reminding us in these couple of verses that when it comes to how He operates, the Kingdom of God, He turns things completely upside down… the people whom we think shouldn’t be of value become of great value; the people whom we least expect to end up in heaven are the ones who end UP in heaven. The people who our culture and society think are second class become FIRST class… God takes the Kingdom and completely turns our understanding upside down… God is not a God of favoritism.

I once had somebody who was challenging me on that idea; they thought God was so exclusive… and they were criticizing my faith in Jesus Christ because the Christian message was so exclusive.  I want to concede to the side that there is an exclusive side to the Christian message.

We believe that God has one Son, Jesus Christ; and that no matter who you are or where you live your only hope for heaven lies in trusting Jesus Christ. And that is exclusive, because we don’t think ALL paths lead to God.

But there’s also an inclusive aspect to the Christian message as well… and that is because Jesus has paid the ENTIRE PRICE for our salvation, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, or who your parents are, or who they aren’t, or where you live or what you don’t have to offer to the situation… YOU HAVE THE HOPE FOR SALVATION IN JESUS CHRIST.  We are free to offer it to everyone at will because God has given us permission to do so.. no matter where you are on the planet, no matter what race, nationality, economic situation… no matter how poor your religious resume might be… THERE IS HOPE FOR YOU IN JESUS CHRIST because He paid the whole price.

And that is the INCLUSIVE part of the Gospel… which is what James is after here.

You never know who you’re talking to; what their standard of God might already be, or what kind of wonderful plans God might have for that person’s life.

And finally in our last section, the Scripture tells us this (James 2:8-10)

“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.”

When I first read this section as part of preparation of this message I thought, “How am I gonna handle that… it seems to be like a whole new subject… he seems like he’s sort of off on a tangent here. But you realize that he’s anticipating the church who’s hearing his instruction about favoritism, it’s saying, “YEA.. SO WE SHOW SOME FAVORITISM… WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?”

The big deal is you’re violating the #1 commandment in relation to how we’re to act toward’s people.. and that is to treat them, to love them as yourself… you’re violating that.  And if you don’t think THAT’S a big deal, by violating one part of the law.. you are LAW BREAKERS.

Friends.. does this topic and message convince you that you are in some way a LAW BREAKER?  For me it absolutely does. You see, the idea of showing favoritism is not something we have to be taught; certainly certain people have grown up in an environment where that tendency is fueled. But I think it comes right back from Adam and Eve… it’s who we are by our nature, our SINFUL BROKEN NATURE.

It requires a powerful and personal relationship with Jesus Christ to break the tendency to show favoritism. So I cannot imagine that there’s anyone in this room who in all honesty can say, “I DON’T STRUGGLE IN THE AREA OF SHOWING FAVORITISM.”  And if you have and if you do, when we pray in just a moment I’m going to invite you to join me in repenting and asking God forgiveness for that reality… and praying that our church, if not already, becomes a place where any-one could walk in here on Sunday morning and not just get a handshake and a smile, but a FRIENDSHIP from you all.. because we are a church that does not show favoritism.

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A CHALLENGE TO YOU: I invite you take this new challenge on this week.  Last week the passage was on listening and speaking and being quick to listen and slow to speak… and my challenge was I wanted you to pray then listen to God for as long as you pray.

I of course accepted the challenge and so I found myself praying for less time… (laughter).. because I knew I had to listen equally.  It felt like one of those jogs where you go out one way.. then you know you’re gonna turn around and come back; and the whole time you’re running you’re thinking, ‘I’m gonna have to do this all over again. So the whole time I was talking to God I was thinking like, “Wrap it up `Dan, you’re gonna have to listen this long.. and that was not the intended purpose of the challenge.  So I tried with nominal success.

THIS WEEK’S CHALLENGE: “God tell me who I tend to discriminate against; and give me the opportunity to show them Christ’s love this week.”  I think that’s an honest, Godly prayer and I just have a real strong feeling that if you genuinely give that prayer to God, He’s going to give you the opportunity to do just that.

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LET’S PRAY: “Father, many join me in confessing to You our tendency to show favoritism, we have judged by so many parameters that You just don’t. And we thank you that you are a God who loves broken people because obviously we are broken before you… and in desperate utter need of you. We pray that You would give us EYES to see folks the way that You see them.  And to treat each person as it they were created by God, that You have a special plan and purpose for their life… and prepare our hearts… open up those doors in the back of this sanctuary and bring in people who are broken that we might show them Christ’s love… We ask these things in Jesus’ name.”  Amen.

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