There was a time when it seemed like every weird or less-than attractive movie character would try to get into the cool new nightclub only to be shamefully sent away by the uncaring bouncer. (Remember these guys?) All those characters just weren't good enough to hear the clasp of the rope coming off as they hear, "come on in." James 2:1-13 shows us how Christians might be doing this same thing to others in church. And it's not right.
James 2:1-13 uses a thought picture of a man with nice clothing and a fancy ring on his finger being invited, maybe by someone like an usher, to a good seat. He's treated like a prince. And based his physical description, we are likely to believe that he's wealthy. Then a poor man wearing shabby rags walks up. Oh how special he'll feel when the usher welcomes him and walks him to a good seat too! But that's not what happens. Instead, he's told to stand to the side or in the back, or maybe sit on the floor. It doesn't say, but we get the feeling that if this man were to walk toward open seats, the people sitting next to them would lean over and say, "seat's taken."
Neither of these guys knew where to sit so it might be that James either had a special event in mind (like a court case as some argue), or he was thinking these guys were guests. In either case, one was treated very well and the other treated poorly because of appearance. And in both cases, value was assessed to the person because of the appearance of (or lack of) wealth. This is how the world might think, but it's not how God thinks. The world also values people by many other outside appearances too.
Remember Jesus' warning about the Scribes in Mark 12:38-40? They had the best seats but devoured widows' houses. Or how about the following passage in Mark about the poor widow's offering? Take a 30 seconds and look up Mark 12:41-44. Really, it will only take a minute. Let God's Word sink in on this topic. How are you doing with this?
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount has a lot to say about the topic. Jesus shares his heart for the poor and humble. He also teaches on judgement and what standard should be used. With these passages in mind, it is clear that favoritism has no place in Christian community. And it says nothing of the true riches of the gospel of Jesus when we place a such little bit of wealth as something so much more valuable than another person.
But there is another side of this picture that we often fail to see. Were do you picture yourself in the story? You could be the usher, the rich person, or the poor person. From the reading, we likely see this instruction from the view of the usher. James seems to be writing in such a way that puts us in that place so if you said usher, that's fine. We should see this situation from that vantage point and then apply the lesson to our own lives. Favoritism must be dealt with. But there are still two other positions we might see ourselves in the story.
We might be the rich person or the poor person. Do you regularly find yourself thinking you are more important than your Christian brothers and sisters? There have been times in my ministry (thankfully not recently), I've had people threaten to leave a local congregation where I served and then quickly remind me of how much they give in tithing. Is this a way to say, "I'm kind of a big deal."
Or maybe you're the poor person in the story. Do you fear being judged and disrespected in church? Are you just waiting to be kicked off the island? This is a problem too because it's NOT the truth of the gospel. Everyone has equal value as a image barer of God. We each might have different skills and responsibilities, but we all hold equal value.
There's something else that I think we need to see. Sometimes we are the ushers to ourselves. In other words, we treat ourselves in such a way as to end up standing in the corner or not even joining with other Christians. We tell ourselves we shouldn't be there. The good seats are too good for us because we are not worthy. We preach to our souls that we have no Kingdom value. We are our own mean ushers. It's a lie. James 2:1-13 demands that we treat others well, but we also must stop treating ourselves so terribly. God values you. You should value you too.
I'll be discussing this more on Sunday, but in the meantime, here's an update video that includes a couple things you can pray for and more info about the potential building.
For the Kingdom!