Have you ever heard of the world’s version of the “Golden Rule?” Unlike our Savior’s, the world’s version is “He who has the gold makes the rules.” Even those who believe in the morality of Free-Market Capitalism have to admit the sad fact that money can buy things it shouldn’t. Things like food, clothing, a house, a car, medicine, etc., are all things that money can and should buy. But it buys some things it shouldn’t be able to purchase, like people’s lives and the sexual innocence of young girls. And it certainly shouldn’t buy influence in the church.
Is it usually so blatant as what’s described in today’s passage? Probably not. Hopefully a rich guy coming in with an expensive suit and tie wouldn’t be ushered to a nice seat while a poor seeker was given a place to stand in the back. It probably was that blatant and open in the first century church as James pictures for us here: There’s no indication that he’s speaking figuratively in any way.
But here in the modern church in America, do money and political influence have sway in more subtle ways? I think so. We as Americans pride ourselves on egalitarianism and not prizing people for their bank account balance, but we can be guilty of more subtle violations of what James is referring to.
Pastors are always under pressure to get more money for their church budgets. They’ve been called by the Lord to proclaim the Message of Christ to the lost and to shepherd Jesus’ sheep. God’s given them a vision of reaching the people around them, and in order to accomplish that, they have to have access to financial resources. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But to the degree that they give undue deference to a church member because that member is wealthy and a good giver, that’s violating the spirit of James’s warnings here. A member certainly shouldn’t be given any position of leadership based on how generously they give. If the leadership gives any more weight to the opinion of a wealthy member than to a poorer member, that’s to their shame.
What about us in our personal lives? When we see someone who’s “down on their luck,” do we make snap judgments about them? Do we look down upon them? Do we think that we’re somehow better than they are, that we’re somehow more deserving of God’s blessings in our lives than they are? If so, that’s to our shame as individual believers.
Or maybe the church is tempted by the political zeitgeist. Maybe it’s tempted to not talk about certain subjects (like the final judgment, or God’s plan for sexuality) because that’s unpopular in the world. If so, that seems to me to not coincide with what James is calling for here. We’re tailoring our message based on what the world likes instead of God’s word.
And I don’t know about you, but there are whole groups of people I’m tempted to “write off,” adherents to a certain world-wide religion in a certain region of the world. The word is clear that God’s plan is to bring people from every “nation, tribe, people and language” into his redeemed family.
On the subject of God’s word, what does it tell us about the Savior we claim to believe in? Well, it tells us that while he was on earth, he was well-known as someone who wasn’t swayed at all by what was popular or who had political influence. He joyfully associated himself with all types of people, from the wealthiest in society down to the lowest of the lowest on the totem pole, such as prostitutes and tax collectors. He chose to live in a no-account village called Nazareth for most of his life, and he willingly ministered in “Galilee of the Gentiles.” And this impartiality even started before he was born. Remember, he’s the only One in all of history who could choose his own ancestors. What type of ancestors did he have? Please forgive me as I quote myself: “None of these were perfect people-the best were still sinners in need of God’s grace, and the worst, well . . . Let’s just say that I wouldn’t be too proud if I had people like this in my ancestry. If you know your Bible, you know some of the shameful history behind some of those names listed in Matthew’s first chapter. Murderers. Adulterers. Idolaters. Thieves.” And our Savior chose to associate himself with all of them and let them take part in his plan to bring about our salvation.
James finishes the passage with a quote from Leviticus, which he calls the “Royal Law”: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Why is it the “Royal Law?” Well, there are lots of good reasons to call it that. Our King said that all of the Law and Prophets hang on loving God with everything we have and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It’s a great umbrella statement for how we’re supposed to treat others: Love God and love people, and all the rest is just details
If we did this, favoritism wouldn’t be an issue, to say the least. I know, easier to say than to do. But he expects nothing less from us. By his grace, let’s make a commitment to strive towards this. How about it?
Father God, I confess I’m guilty of this sometimes. I have no right to write anybody off, and I certainly don’t deserve your grace any more than anyone else. Please search me out, and if you find anything like this in my heart, let’s root it out together. Please.