Faith that Gets Its Hands Dirty part 4
How to Treat People Right
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 27, 2008


Main Passage: James 2:1-13 (NLT)

The Horse And The Donkey
(from Great Fairy Tales II Book 5)
Once upon a time, there was an old farmer who had a horse and a donkey. He was fond of them both but he took better care of the horse than he did the donkey. Even though both animals carried sacks to the market, the donkey's load was always heavier. As time went by, the horse grew big and strong, while the donkey became thin and weak. One day, on their way to market, the donkey moaned:
"I'm so weak I can hardly stand! Couldn't you take some of my load?" When the horse heard this, he looked the donkey up and down in disdain, and said: "Our master gave you the heavy load, because he knows that donkeys are beasts of burden."
So the poor donkey stumbled on. But soon he had to stop again.
"Please help me, or I'll never reach the market alive." But the horse replied: "Rubbish! Come on, you'll manage this time too!"
But after a few steps, the donkey dropped dead to the ground. When the master saw the animal fall, he ran up.
"Poor thing!" he said. "He served me well for so many years. His load must have been too heavy."
Then he turned to the horse: "Come here! You'll have to carry his load too now!" And he put all the sacks onto the horse's back.
"I'd have done better to help the donkey when he was alive," said the horse to himself. "A little more weight wouldn't have done me any harm. Now, I might collapse myself under a double load!" But feeling sorry too late did nothing to lighten his load.

At first glance, the villain in this story appears to be the horse. It's the horse who was too proud to help the donkey. But I want to suggest to you this morning that the real villain was the old farmer. Buy why? Why would I say that? What did he do wrong? Well, what he did wrong was he treated the horse differently than he did the donkey. The story said, "...he took better care of the horse than he did the donkey."

We just read a passage in James chapter 2 that dealt with this. In that passage, we were warned not to show favoritism toward some people and prejudice toward others.

That’s the principle of this passage…

Primary Principle: Do not Discriminate

It was right there in the very first verse of the chapter…

James 2:1 (NLT)
My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

The New English Bible calls it “snobbery”. It says don’t be a snob.

The Greek word here is a compound word that means "to receive" and "to face". So literally it means "to receive somebody's face". No, it’s not a plot device for the next Hannibal Lecter movie. “To receive somebody’s face” means to receive somebody at face value, on the basis of how they look. It’s talking about making superficial judgments. You don’t know anything about the person, you don’t know anything about the situation, but you judge the person anyway solely based on how they look, how they dress, how they talk…

That’s what James is talking about here. Showing prejudice. Making a pre-judgment before you actually have anything to base a judgment on.

That’s what we’re not supposed to do. But how often we do it anyway. People tend to make prejudgments on other people all the time. And what criteria do we use?

Pre-Judgments are Based On…

•    Appearance

We discriminate often because of appearance. Beauty is everything in our world. If you're a cute kid you've got it made. If you're not so cute, tough luck! We judge people on their appearance -- how they look, how they dress, how long their hair is…

And then we turn that around on ourselves. We judge others based on their appearance, and then invite others to judge us on our appearance. So even Christians get caught up in this dress for power, dress for success, dress to be cool type of mindset that’s so prevalent today.

We become so concerned with what's in and what's out, what's hot and what's not. Personally, I subscribe to the Gilda Radner philosophy of dress:

"I make my fashion choices based on what doesn't itch."
~ Gilda Radner

•    Heritage

This is when we judge people according to their ancestry, their nationality, their ethnic background. I heard about a black man who went to a church in the south and was trying to get in. It was full of bigots and they wouldn't let him in. He went to the pastor and told him. The pastor said, "You just need to pray about it." About three weeks later the pastor saw him and asked, "Did you talk to the Lord about it?" The man said, "Yes, and God said, `Don't worry, I've been trying to get in that church 20 years and I still can't get in.'"

Just week ago the NHL marked the 50th anniversary of when Willie O’Ree broke the colour barrier in hockey. On January 18, 1958, Willie O’Ree from Fredericton laced up his skates for the Boston Bruins. And in interviews over the past couple weeks he’s recalled how there were racial slurs and threats and hostilities that he experienced at that time.

That was fifty years ago. But we still haven’t solved those problems, have we?

Not long ago, I was in Sobeys and ran into someone I know. And I stopped to talk, and I couldn’t believe it when she set into a tirade about all the problems caused by blacks. In fact, she wanted her landlord to evict anyone who was black from her apartment building.

I did my best to diffuse that and to express that skin colour has nothing to do with a person’s value, but really, I didn’t know how to handle it. I was just shocked to hear such blatant bigotry.

There’s still that kind of discrimination today. Sometimes it becomes a full-fledged event like the Jena Six controversy you may have been following in the news. But more often than not, it more subtle than that. It’s an attitude. It’s a pre-judgment based on skin colour alone.

And with more and more ethnicities represented even here in Charlottetown, it will continue to be an issue until we learn to see people the way Jesus sees them.

•    Age

We judge people because their too young or their too old. Or worse yet, they’re somewhere in the middle.

•    Achievement

Our society gushes over winners and forgets the losers. One minute you're a hero and the next minute you're a zero. Success and status are keywords.

•    Economics

This is perhaps the most common distinction. We judge people by their wealth -- whether they're rich or poor -- their economic status. What attitude do you have toward people who make more money than you do? What attitude do you have toward people who make less money than you do?

This area of economics is the specific area that James addresses. He picks it out of all the areas we can discriminate in.

James 2:2-4 (NLT)
For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

So James is talking about two strangers showing up at a Church meeting or a worship service. We know they are strangers because they don't know where to sit. So in comes the first guy, and he’s dripping with wealth. He’s dressed to the nines, his personal assistants are busy taking notes on everything he says, and he tosses his keys to the greeter to go park the car. It’s pretty obvious that this guy is well off. And so the greeter has to make a decision. Where will he seat him?

And right behind him, in comes they guy who’s clearly down on his luck. You already heard him pull into the parking lot. you heard his car backfire, you noticed that his muffler needs to be fixed. His brakes were squeaking and his fan belt was screaming. And now you can see him. His clothes are all tattered and torn, he doesn't have any shoes on, his hair is all tangled and greasy, and it’s obvious that this man hasn’t used any deodorant in days.

He looks bad. The greeter has to make a decision. Where will he seat him?

Well, here’s what the greeter decides. He takes the rich guy right up to the front row and seats him there. "Here, take this seat. It’s the best seat in the house. We want everybody to know you're here. We want to take care of every one of your needs." And then the greeter turns to the bum and says, "As for you, you can stand over there in a corner or you can sit on the floor. Take your pick." He demeans the man, he humiliates the man, and he dismisses the man as being unimportant.
[By the way, you’re too be commended here this morning. I see you’ve left all the best seats (front row) for someone else.]

Deep inside, you know that’s wrong, right? You know there’s something morally wrong with treating people that way, don’t you? But why? What’s so wrong with that? What’s the problem with showing favouritism?

What's Wrong With Showing Favoritism?

1.    It ignores the example of Jesus.

If you want to be like Jesus you can't play favorites. And that’s the whole basis for James’ appeal. He says…

James 2:1 (NIV)
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism.

Read through the first four books of the New Testament in your Bible and you will see exactly how Jesus treated other people. Whether people were rich or poor, young or old, outcasts or social insiders… Jesus treated them all with dignity and respect. And when it came time for Jesus to challenge people and confront them for their sinfulness, again He treated them all equally. He did not show preferential treatment to anyone based on their appearance, their age, their heritage, their accomplishments, or their wealth.

Listen, Jesus loves everybody. There’s not one person at any point of history that Jesus would have dismissed as being unimportant. And that’s why if there is one place in the whole world where there isn’t any kind of discrimination it ought to be the church. There is discrimination everywhere else in the world, but among Christ-followers there should be no such prejudice.

2.    It’s guided by evil motives.

That’s right of what James said in verse four…

James 2:4 (NLT)
…doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

What kinds of evil motives? Well, how about pride… you associate only with people who can bolster your own reputation. Or a lust for power… you ignore people with no social standing so that you can devote more attention to the “in” crowd. Or greed… you evaluate every relationship based on what’s in it for you.

Have you ever gone into a store ready to buy something but you were completely ignored by the clerks? Perhaps you were wearing an old pair of jeans and a T-shirt, and so the clerks figured you weren’t worth their time? What happened when you were standing there and then someone else came in all dressed up in a nice suit? They got waited on first, didn’t they?

Shera has told me she has experienced that same kind of treatment because of her gender. She’s gone into a store and needed some assistance so she went up to the counter, but she was completely ignored. And then a guy walked in, and immediately there were two or three staff members offering to assist him.

Those staff members are showing favouritism. They’re making pre-judgments of a person without actually knowing anything about them. And James calls this sin. He says this kind of favouritism is guided by evil motives.

So you and I need to honestly evaluate our lives to see if we treat people with that same kind of favoritism. If we do, we need to repent of that and change our ways. We need to follow the example of Jesus instead.

3.     It doesn’t make sense.

James 2:5 (NLT)
Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?

Now, before you misunderstand what James is saying, he is not saying that being poor is good and being rich is bad. He’s not saying that if you have money you must be evil. He’s not saying that only the poor will be saved.

But what he is saying is that your net-worth has nothing to do with your self-worth. He’s saying that the poor are just as important to God as the rich are. Wealth doesn’t make any difference to God. Your value is not based on your valuables.

Until just a couple years ago, I was driving a 1984 Toyota Corolla with half a million kilometres on it. Some of you remember that car. It was rusting out, there was a tear in the upholstery, it had survived an encounter with a moose… It wasn’t exactly in great shape by the time I finally got rid of it. In fact, I sold it to the junk yard for $50.

Now, we could have probably afforded a better car. But I happen to believe you drive cars for transportation, not for status. My identity was not tied to that car.

And God didn’t tie my identity to that car, either. He doesn’t require me to be rich and drive nice cars before He’ll have anything to do with me. James says that He chooses the poor to be saved in spite of their poverty. 

And on top of that, James says, “Besides, the rich could care less about you. Isn’t it the rich that are exploiting you? Isn’t it the rich that are causing you all kinds of trouble? It doesn’t make sense for you to cater to them.”

James 2:6-7 (NLT)
Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

Let’s put this into context. In New Testament times, it was the Roman nobility who were hunting down Christians and persecuting them. It was the upper crust who were feeding the Christians to the lions. You know who the upper crust are, don’t you? They’re a bunch of crumbs held together by their own dough. They were harrassing the Christians, judging the Christians, insulting the Christians, executing the Christians…

So it’s to these Christians that James says, "Why are you showing them favouritism? Why are you worried about impressing them? They're certainly not worried about impressing you. They're trying to wipe you out!”

So James says, “don’t show favouritism. It’s unchristian, it’s immoral, it’s illogical, and fourthly…”

4.    It breaks the law of love.

And what is this “Law of Love”? It’s to love your neighbour as yourself.

James 2:8-9 (NLT)
Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.

Now, James is actually quoting from Leviticus 19:18, where Moses wrote "Love your neighbour as yourself." Jesus also quoted that verse when He was asked what the greatest commandment was. You see his response on the banner behind me… He said the greatest command was to love God with your heart, mind, sould and strength. And then He added that the second most important commandment is to love your neighbour as yourself.

Well, after Jesus quoted that verse, He was asked who a neighbour is. Which sounds like a pretty obvious question, doesn’t it? Aren’t your neighbours the people who live in the house next to you? I know Mr. Rogers wanted to be my neighbour.

But when Jesus was asked that question, He told the story that we know as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. If you’re not familiar with it, you can read it for yourself in Luke 10. But basically what Jesus taught us is that our neighbour is anyone who is in need. And we are to act neighbourly toward them. Instead of ignoring those who are in need and avoiding them, and instead of oppressing them while favouring the well-off, we should be neighbourly toward them. We should respect them and help them and treat them with dignity.

Now, this Law of Love does not mean that we condone, overlook, or tolerate sinfulness. But it does mean that we love people in spite of it. It means that we offer hope to the hopeless, life to the lifeless, forgiveness to the unforgivable, mercy to those who need a taste of mercy. It means that we love the one who lives a lifestyle that we don't agree with. It means that we pray for people who may be considered our enemies. It means we show compassion toward those who have made poor decisions in life.

You see, here’s the thing. When you judge people based solely on surface issues, you’re liable to reach the wrong conclusions and to be excessively harsh and critical. That doesn’t mean that there’s not a time to exercise some discernment, but don’t jump the gun. Don’t judge people without knowing the facts. Don’t evaluate people on mere appearances.

Dig a little deeper. Get to know the person. Learn the facts. When the Jewish leaders began to be unjustly critical of Jesus, Jesus Himself said…

John 7:24 (NLT)
“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”

And what you will find is this: when you look beneath the surface, you’re much more likely to show a little compassion, to extend a little mercy, to lend a hand to those in need.

Okay. So, James warns us not to show favouritism… not to practice prejudice… not to treat some people as more valuable than others… not to jump to conclusions based on superficial information. So what’s a better way? How do we treat people right? What are some guidelines we can follow?

How to Treat People Right:

A.    Let your law be love.

Let love be what guides your decisions and your actions and your relationships.

“God must love the common people because He made so many of them.”
~ Abraham Lincoln

You know what? That's true. God loves ordinary people. He loves outcasts. And if God chooses to love the lowest people in our society, what right do we have to refuse to love them?

There was a study done a while ago that connected how a church loves to how a church grows. This is what they did. They took a survey 8,600 people from congregations in 39 different denominations and they measured what they called their `love quotient'. And what they found is that growing churches are more loving toward other people in the church and to visitors than declining churches are. Loving churches attract more people regardless of their theology, their denomination or their location.

Christian Schwarz of “Natural Church Development” fame has expressed it this way…

“Unfeigned, practical love has a divinely generated magnetic power far more effective than evangelistic programs which depend almost entirely on verbal communication. People do not want to hear us talk about love, they want to experience how Christian love really works.”
~ Christian Schwarz

B.    Recognize the value in everyone.

Recognize it and appreciate it.

Philippians 2:3-4 (NLT)
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

Recognize the innate value in every person you meet. We know that every person has value because God has instilled that value in them.

Now, maybe you have to look a little harder to see that value in some people. But it’s there. Every person has some value.

And then, once you recognize it, you need to express it. That’s the third thing…

C.    Add value to everybody.

I’m talking about giving people a boost. Encourage them. Let them know that you see value in them. Give everybody a lift whenever you can.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT)
So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

So when people stumble, don't criticize, sympathize. Be an encourager not a complainer, not a condemner, not a critical person, not a judger. Look, most people already know when they mess up. They don’t need you to bring it to their attention. What they do need from you is a little encouragement, a little help, a little mercy.

You know, you can encourage people just by smiling at them. I try to do this all the time. When I go through a checkout, I try to smile at the clerk. And they almost always smile back. And I’m glad, because I’ve found that when I smile, I feel better. So if I can help someone else to smile, I’m helping them feel better, too. I’m encouraging them. I’m adding value to their lives.

And you see that happening within churches, too. Churches that are affirming and encouraging are the churches that are growing and healthy. Churches that are critical and demeaning are declining and dying.

You know what? Everybody here contributes to the atmosphere of the church either negatively or positively. And I’ve got to say, from what I see it’s almost always positive. But would people come back to this church just because of you? Do you add value to their lives?

I want our church to have a reputation for love. I believe that God desires a church that will love people unconditionally. He can use that kind of church to spark a spiritual awakening across this island that all the forces of hell couldn't stop. It would change the climate of this community for Christ. Nothing can stop a loving church.

Again, I’m not talking about being some wishy-washy power-of-positive-thinking superficial easy-beliefism church where nobody is ever challenged, changed or convicted. I’m not talking about condoning sin in any form. I’m just talking about loving people in spite of their sinfulness. Just like God did with us…

Romans 5:8 (NLT)
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

We need that same attitude ourselves. The attitude of Jesus that saw value in you and in me. We need to see that kind of value in those around us, both inside the church and outside the church. Let’s pray.

“Father, I know this is a message we need to hear because it can be so easy to jump to conclusions and pre-judge people. Lord, forgive us for the times we’ve made judgments about people based on outward appearance. Help us to realize that favoritism and faith do not go together, they don't mix, they are incompatible. Help us to realize that it is against the example you yourself have set for us. I pray that each one of us would commit ourselves to accepting people, appreciating them, and affirming them because that is what You have done for us. Help us to be loving. Help us to be encouraging. Help us to build each other up. Help us to earn the reputation that we love You and that we love other people. In Jesus' name. Amen.”

[Note: This message series uses a variety of source materials, primarily "A Faith that Worls" by Rick Warren, "Faith for Pedestrians" by Laurence Croswell, and "James: Hands-On Christianity" by Charles Swindoll.]



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