|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Respect of Persons|
|Text||James ch.2 v.1 |
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"My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons." (James 2, 1)
Now this epistle of James is notable in that it is a very practical letter and it deals with the practical side of the Christian faith. Each of the books of the Bible has its own important contribution to make to our understanding of how we should serve and worship God and what we should believe concerning God. And the letters of the apostle Paul are remarkable for their fulness of Christian teaching and of Christian doctrine. The peculiar and extraordinary gift given to Paul in his writing, especially the epistle to the Romans and to the Ephesians, is that they give us wonderful teaching as to what we are to believe. That is the genius of the apostle Paul. He was a wonderful teacher of Christian truth, Christian doctrine.
But the particular gift of this writer, James, is that he was practical. And he deals with the practical side of the Christian's belief and practice. For instance, he warns us not to be hearers of the Word of God only but also doers. He points out to us the terrible possibility that we could come to the house of God merely to be sermon tasters and that we really do not take to heart what we hear when we come to listen to the Word of God preached. He deals with a very practical subject of spending some of our time visiting the sick and the lonely. He says that pure religion and undefiled is to visit the fatherless and the widows in their afflictions and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Clearly these are intensely practical subjects. He goes on a little later that faith without works is dead. There will always be people who glory in having faith and speak about having much faith. And the apostle James challenges that sort of Christian believer or professing believers and insist with them that if their faith does not issue in good works then it is worthless. Just like the body without the spirit is dead, he says, so also faith if it has not works is dead also.
Perhaps the most devastating passage of all in his little letter deals with the use of the tongue. I was reflecting that to some extent in the Psalms that were selected this morning especially Psalm 120: because it is so typical of James that he gives us very stern teaching concerning the use of our tongue. And of course in religious circles, the tongue can do a great deal of good or else a great deal of harm. And he warns us that the tongue is full of deadly poison that it is an unruly member in our body that it is set on fire of hell and the words which are not carefully weighed and used can result in tremendous damage. He compares this to a forest fire and he says, look how great a matter a little fire kindles. You strike a match and you throw it carelessly into the bracken in a highland wood in the summertime when everything is dry. And the whole wood or a forested area can be devastated by one single match. So he says the word of our mouths can do infinite harm and can create infinite evil. Well then, you see, the apostle James is a practical preacher. He is, if you like, a reformer and a corrector. And if you and I ever find ourselves getting frothy and light and careless and superficial as Christians, and I do find myself like that repeatedly, then I would recommend there is no better place to go back to then to read and reread this little epistle of James. It has something to say about prayer when we pray without faith, he says it is worthless. It has something to say about sermons that we should listen, but not simply be listeners. We should also work it out in our own practice. He has something to say about carnal joy and carnal wisdom. Well, I think you would agree with me that this book is essential for our spiritual health and our spiritual well being. It is like a sort of thermometer of the soul. Those who can stand up to the the tests which we find written for us by this epistle of James, and can walk away from it feeling at least we have not be intensely condemned in our consciences may have reason to thank God that we have some spiritual health, because it is a searching book and a searching epistle. He has no interest whatever in encouraging what is counterfeit. He has not the slightest patience with hypocrisy or insincerity or mere pretence or anything of that kind. It is a practical book to make practical Christians.
Well, that is the background to the book and my text is what I have shown you in Chapter 2 and verse 1, where he writes like this "My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons." (James 2, 1)
Let me give you the picture as a whole which he draws for us in this part of his epistle. He addresses us as though you and I were stewards at the door of the church, standing at the door and he is advising us how we are to behave toward the stranger who comes in. God is interested of course in the stranger and the visitor. And in this picture which James gives us there are two men coming to church this morning. One of them is very handsomely dressed. He is obviously a very well-to-do gentleman. His hair-style is immaculate. His clothes are that of an American senator and he has gold rings on his hands. I am developing the picture slightly as you see, but that is the gist of what he says in verse 2. If there comes into your assembly a man with a gold ring in goodly apparel. That's the description. Well, the door steward turns to this man and he says to him, 'Sir, please take this handsome seat just here'. You have respect unto the man with the gay clothes and you say to him verse 3, sit in a good place, so he is well provided for.
And then the next stranger who comes in happens to be a poor man, in what James verse 2 here calls 'vile raiment'. That means to say he can't afford a very handsome suit of clothes. Indeed it is very obvious that by the crumpled appearance that he has that the man has very little money. He can't afford very much. And so in this case, the door steward is envisaged as saying to him, well you can stand in the corner if you like or there is a little seat right here in front, just a stool, you can sit on that. And the point of this illustration clearly is to show the evil that he describes in verse 1, which is to have the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ with respect of person. It is to treat persons in different ways, unfairly, unjustly. To have prejudice because of the way people appear and because of what people appear to have. Many of us who are a bit older remember in the days of our childhood that railway carriages came in 3 classes. There were the 1st class for those who could pay a lot of money for the journey. Then there were the 2nd class for those who were professionals but weren't aristocratic. Then there were the 3rd class railway compartments for most of us, and these just had humble wooden seats and there wasn't much refinement. But the other have the better standard. And James is saying that does not apply in the house of God. We do not introduce into the house of God the idea of class or distinctions of that order. We don't have 1st class seat or 2nd class and 3rd class. We treat people in an entirely different way. God notices in other words, the way in which we treat one another. He notices the attitude that we have towards one another and we are not to bring in any of these worldly things. We are not to bring in class. We are not to bring in distinction because of education. A man may come in and it's very clear he had a public school upbringing. He speaks with that beautiful accent obtained by going to a fine public school. We are not to treat anyone in that distinctively way. We are to be courteous to all. We are to be friendly to all. We are to be kind to all. But we don't make a distinction such as are made in this world between those with education and those well spoken and softly spoken and those who are not. We don't make a distinction about people's background.
I remember in the 1950s as a young Christian when I was travelling once on a train in England, a man sat beside me, a black man, who immediately took out his Bible and began to read it and put it under his seat. And then he got up and walked away. His Bible was there. And when he came back, I told him how delighted I was to meet somebody who was reading the Word of God. And then he opened up to me because he saw I was a Christian too and he said, you know I just come from Glasgow and on the Lord's day morning, I went into a certain big church in Glasgow and I sat down and the steward came up to me and he said, 'Sir, we don't have black people in our churches. Do you mind getting up and going out'. And I felt so ashamed as you would feel ashamed if anyone would dare speak to another fellow human being in that way. We don't make these distinctions. And we don't make the distinction which some people make that such and such a person is one of us, one of our company. He is married into our family. He is married to my cousin. Or he came from our school. Or we were friends together in our childhood. We don't make distinctions of these kinds in connection with the house of God. And James put it in this way, "have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons." (James 2, 1)
Now, he gives certain reasons in the following verses, which if you like, prove his case. He gives an explanation as to why all of that kind of behaviour is wrong in the house of God. Let me take you through his argument. He begins his argument at verse 4. "Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?" Meaning judges who have evil thoughts. Now that is the first explanation he gives to us as to why it is wrong to make this short of class distinction between those that have and those that have not when they come to the house of God. It is because in the sight of God, prejudice is wickedness. That's what verse 4 is talking about. This word 'partial' is our modern word 'prejudice'. It is judging of people according to the outside appearance and not according to their true character. We are not when we come to the house of God to judge the people according to outward appearance but we are rather to make our assessment of them in terms of their true character.
So at verse 5, he says in his second argument that God's view of wealth and poverty is entirely different from men's view of wealth and poverty. "Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?" (James 2, 5). Now you see the argument is this, wealth and poverty as we see it are not things that God values in the slightest. The fact that the man comes in and he is handsomely dressed in a west London suit of one of this fine tailors or that his hair is groomed in expensive manner or it has certain ointments on his hand and clearly is a very well-to-do man - that is nothing at all whatsoever in the sight of God. On the contrary, he says, God has usually, not always, but usually he chooses the poor of this world to be rich in faith. In other words, what matters with God, is not the clothes upon our back but the state of grace within our hearts. The true riches and the true wealth are not what men see but the state of our souls and of our hearts before God and the poor man who is made to sit down in a state of shame or stand in a corner may be a man who is rich in the grace of God. Rich in love for Jesus Christ, rich in his knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.
He goes on with another argument at verses 6 and 7. Usually he says, those that hate the Gospel are not the poor but the rich. "... ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name (meaning Christ) by which ye are called?" Oh, you see how inconsistent it would be of us if we would to treat people in this prejudiced and partial manner because usually it is the rich and the mighty of this world who destroy the Gospel who persecute Christian people who oppose the Jews who sneer at the Gospel who despised what you and I love. Are you then to make a special seat available to those who despise the things of God? Are you going to humble the man who may rich in faith and make him sit on a stool in the corner?
And then he goes on at verse 8 like this, "If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:" That is to say, in the sight of God, the moral law is the standard. The royal law is the law of the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. That is the standard that God has given and nothing else and it is prejudice if you and I judge a person according to some superficial difference between them and others. This man poor and that man rich. This man well spoken and this man less well spoken. This man educated that man not educated. This man from such a country and this man from another one. This man related to me but this man not. These are no basis whatsoever upon which we are to judge of those that come to the house of God. If ye have respect of persons, you commit sin and are convinced of the law as transgressors (verse 9). Oh, my dear friends, you and I have something to learn surely from the exhortation that is given here by the apostle James. Whoso shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
Now his last argument is found in verses 12 and 13. And there in these words, he points out to us that the way in which you and I treat people in this life will have a very great deal to do with the way God will treat us in the judgment day. He says at verse 12 "So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment." That's another way of saying that what you do to others now in this life, God will do to you in the life to come. If you have shown kindness and mercy to His people in this life then God will show kindness and mercy to you in the life to come. But if you show no mercy or kindness to His people in this life but are prejudiced against them and are unkind in your dealings towards them, God will deal similarly to you when you appear before Him in the day of judgement soon to come. Now that's the way in which he argues his case. And he argues it in a manner that appeals to our consciences.
What then may we say about the church in the light of this? What lessons came home to us about the congregation of God's people in the light of this? I think we must say, must we not that the church in the light of this is a wonderful place. The church is so different from the world. What matters in the world is how much money you have. What sort of a car you drive. What sort of a house you live in. What sort of a job you have. What sort of connections do you have? As the world says it's not what you know but who you know. None of that should apply in the house of God. None of that should have any place, education, snuggery, money, nepotism, simony should have no place whatsoever - because the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a little heaven upon earth, and the spirit of heaven should be amongst God's people. It should be a little foretaste of that glorious place above where God's people should to be at last. A place where people are valued for what they are in their heart and for what they are in their soul. Those who are rich, not in material things, but rich in faith, rich in grace.
Not everybody here will know the story about a man called Innes of the hills. But some of you will. Innes of the Hills was a very great Christian who lived a hundred years ago or something in the islands off the West of Scotland, in Lewis and Skye, I believe. Innes of the Hills had nothing but the clothes he stood up in. I think he lived in a sort of broken down cottage somewhere in the moors in the islands. But he was a great Christian. Many were brought to faith in Christ through Innes of the Hills, as they called him. And yet he had nothing. No money. He would go round all the communion services, all the services of the church and the open air services and the fellowships. And his contribution was wonderful. And on one occasion some well to do person took pity on him. They met this man and handed him one penny or shilling or some coin or other. And Innes turned it over like this. He looked to one side and look to another side and he handed it back, "thank you sir," he said "for this coin, but I can't use it", he said, "I don't see Jesus Christ on either side of it". Now you and I will smile at that. But you see he had no use for anything that did not point his soul to the Lord Jesus Christ. And if that man, Innes of the Hills had been taken into the polite society of the world, they would have moved away from him. This dirty ill kempt man with ragged clothes and unset hair. They would have thought what terrible company and yet he was very great in the eyes of God. Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?
My dear friends, there are lessons that James brings before us here which are intensely important for all who go to church to remember. There is to be no difference in the way we treat one another. There is to be no special dealing with one because he is one of our set or one of our company. We are to deal even handedly with all and to show kindness to all. Nothing is more terrible in the life of a church than the existence of a clique or an ingroup or some special privileged set who keep the power in their own hands. Or those who talk as though they were us and them. All such talk is forbidden, all such thinking is forbidden. Listen to my text, "My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons." (James 2, 1) It is for this reason that Christian people should have nothing to do with any secret society of any kind. Because if we belong to secret societies of one kind or another, we cannot keep the demands of Christ for his church. If I belong to some secret society, whatever its name, and I am able to give a wink or a nod or a special handshake to some of the people in the church and I am on peculiar respect of term with them, I cannot deal with the rest in as fair and perfect a way. Obviously I cannot. If my wink and my nod and my handshake means I must treat this man better than that man then I am prejudiced and I am having the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons. No, we are in the house of God, to be concerned with honesty, with justice, with fair play. We are to justify the righteous and to condemn the wicked. We are to be as those who deal truthfully with all where a person makes a true and credible profession of faith then it is for us to receive their credible profession of faith. Where a person makes a profession of faith which is not credible because their life does not match it, then we are entitled to judge of them as though they were hypocritical. But in the house of God, there must be straight forwardness, honesty, faithfulness and truth.
Now, my dear friends, I have finally to say this to you, in connection with my text. What a blessing it is to be in such a community as the true church of the Lord Jesus Christ! There are great blessings attached to being in such a community. One of them is this that people know in this sort of community that they are going to be welcomed for their own sake and not because of their grand fathers or because of the color of their skin or because of the clothes they are wearing they will be welcomed because they too are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and they are loved as those whom Christ has died for. And people know in such a situation that in that condition they will get justice and judgement and be dealt with as under the eye of Christ the Judge.
Many years ago now, I met a man who was in the Plymouth brethren. He was a very godly man. One of the most godly men I ever met in my life. He was in the Plymouth brethren, a group of Christians that I respect. But I would never wish personally to associate with their points of view about many things. But nonetheless this gentleman was an outstanding spiritual man, a man who was full of the Bible. And full of the knowledge of the truth and he walk with God in uprightness. And his family was an example of every good thing. This man once said in my hearing, there are some churches and congregations and assemblies, he said, of which it could be said he would get more justice in a public house and he said that as one who is very experienced and very mild and gentle in his judgments. Oh, my dear friends, such a thing ought never to happen amongst those professing godliness. There is to be love, and there is to be harmony, and there is to be justice and truth. and we must judge according to what is righteous and judge according to the standards of God's own Word and not according to the wicked prejudices of my foolish heart or yours. "..have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons." (James 2, 1)
And nothing is more terrible than the mentality which thinks of the church as belonging to me, my father was in it and his father before him. It's our church. And these people are incomers. Is'nt that a terrible mentality? You see we are all incomers into the churches of God. We don't own any church. It belongs to the Lord of glory, who died for His people. You and I are merely guests invited by His lordship into His presence and into His house. We are all of us incomers. We are all of us strangers. We are all of us sinners. brought in by His grace, to trust humbly in the blood that was shed by this Lord of glory upon the cross. To love one another as fellow believers and to esteem men not according to their outward appearance or their gifts but to esteem them highly in love for what they are, members of the body of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. That is what the apostle James is teaching and it means that the great example of all our church lives must be taken from the Acts of the Apostles Chapters 2 and following. Because there you remember how the Lord's people, having been converted to Him on the day of Pentecost, many thousands of them were told they have all things in common and they were all of one heart and they were all of one mind. And they continued steadfastly in the Apostle's doctrine and fellowship and breaking of bread and prayers and no man said that anything was his own. They all shared according to the needs of all. Would it not be a wonderful mark of blessing if you and I and all of us have it mightily to follow that example of the Word of God? May He help us all to do so.
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