OVERCOMING PREJUDICE – James 2:1-13

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INTRODUCTION:

It is impossible to judge another person’s motives.  And yet we have a tendency to do just that.  We also cannot determine the heart of a person in a first-time encounter.  Initial impressions may not always be right because we all have some built-in prejudices.

I.  THE PRINCIPLE (Verse 1)

In James 2:1,  James is saying, “Faith in God and partiality are incompatible.”  They don”t go together.  The term “favoritism”‘ in verse 1 comes from two Greek words, combined to mean “to receive by face”, and has the thought of accepting or welcoming someone by face value alone.  The term, “favoritism”, is found in only three other New Testament passages, and in each instance it is made clear that God does not respect faces.  He judges by the heart. The Lord Jesus wasn’t prejudiced.  In Luke 14:12 it says of Jesus, “And He went on to say to the one who had invited Him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you.  But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you;  for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ ”  Even Jesus’ enemies knew that Jesus was not prejudiced.  In Matthew 22:16 the Herodians said to Jesus, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one, for you are not partial to any.” Prejudice can run so deep that it sometimes takes a tragedy to make one see how wrong it is to discriminate on the basis of physical differences.  An article in the newspaper several years ago told of a truck driver who learned the hard way how bigoted he was.  He had no use for blacks – until one saved his life.  It was shortly after l a.m. when his tanker truck flipped over and burst into flames.  A week later he lay in his hospital bed crying openly, for he was looking into the face of a black man who had used his own coat and his bare hands to smother the flames of what had been a human torch.  Needless to say, this was one white man who, with tears of appreciation, learned to see through skin color.

II.  THE PRINCIPLE ILLUSTRATED (verses 2-4)

In verse 2, James is talking about two people:  one rich and the other poor.  The words “gold ring” literally mean “gold-fingered”, suggesting that this man was wearing many gold rings.  Also his clothes were made of the finest materials.  The usher was faced with a choice:  where should he seat these two people.  Matthew 23:6 helps us better understand this situation by telling us that there were “chief seats” in the synagogues,  The Pharisees loved these chief seats which must have been located down in front because they  could enter the synagogue in their elegant robes and march toward the front, calling attention to themselves.  Faced with this decision, the usher based his decision on externals only. James says in verse 4 that this is discrimination, and their motives are evil.  If there is one place where class distinctions should break down, it is in a place of worship.  Distinctions such as age, color, money, status, rank, size, and clothing should mean nothing.  Jesus said to the multitude in John 7:24, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

III.  THE PRINCIPLE EXPLAINED (verses 5-11)

In verses 5-11, James gives three arguments why prejudice is wrong.  First, prejudice is not true of God.  He says in verse 5, “Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?”  Whether we are physically rich or poor, unless we recognize our spiritual poverty and our need for a Savior, we will never experience the riches of faith in Christ, and receive an eternal inheritance from God.  Secondly, God isn’t concerned about wealth or poverty, but about the condition of a person’s soul.  The people James is writing to were exalting the rich, and yet it was these rich people who were the very ones who were causing their pain and injury.  Thirdly, in verses 8-11, James is saying that prejudice is sinful because it is against the Scriptures.  One of the laws God gave to Moses was, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Showing partiality is a violation of that law.

Children in England used to play a game called “Saints and Sinners”.  A hoop was set up at a certain distance, and the children were given ten arrows each.  The object of the game was to aim them at the hoop.  If anyone shot ALL of the arrows through  the hoop, he was proclaimed a “saint”.  If he missed just once, he was called a “sinner”.  If he missed with all ten arrows, he was no greater sinner than if he missed with only one!  One error was as bad as ten!  That was the rule of the game.  The same is true spiritually.  The Lord Jesus never “missed the mark”, but kept God’s law perfectly.  All others have sinned and come short of God’s standard.  Therefore there is no excuse for prejudice because we are all equally sinners.

Let me share with you two stories about what has happened in the lives of two people as a result of the prejudice they experienced from Christians.  A little boy named Joseph had polio.  Someone finally took him to Sunday school, but the teacher neglected him.  Later the young people ridiculed him and then avoided him because of his crippled condition.  As a result, he dropped out of the class with a hatred for the church and the Lord Jesus Christ.  He did, however, continue his studies in school.  When he finally earned his doctorate from Heidelberg University, a man slipped his arm around him, saying, “Joseph, I think a lot of you;  you and I could do much together.  The young man responded warmly to this attention and encouragement, and in time Joseph Goebbels became the propaganda minister for that man:  Adolf Hitler!  Many wondered afterward what would have happened if that Sunday school teacher had shown love to this apparently unwanted individual, and had led him to the Lord.  If the young people had befriended this needy person instead of ridiculing him, he might have become a minister for Christ instead of the Nazis.

Another case is a terrible incident that occurred in the life of Mahatma Gandhi.  This man, who later gained world attention, says in is autobiography that in his student days he was truly interested in the Bible.  Deeply touched by reading the gospels, he seriously considered becoming a convert.  Christianity seemed to offer the real solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.  One Sunday he went to a nearby church to attend services.  He decided to see the minister and ask for instruction in the way of salvation, and enlightenment on other doctrines.  But when he entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go and worship with his own people.  He left and never came back.  “If Christians have cast differences also”, he said to himself, “I might as well remain a Hindu”.  He became one of the most famous people in the history of India and was a champion for the civil rights movement there, but he was never given  the opportunity to experience the freedom of becoming a child of God because of the prejudice of a man who claimed to be a minister of Christ.

IV.  THE PRINCIPLE APPLIED (verses 12-13)

One of the tests of the genuineness of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is how we treat other people.  Can we pass the test?  We all show prejudice at times, don’t we?  Are there people you won’t talk to, or even acknowledge their presence, because of racial, social, economic, or educational factors?  Are there others who treat you that way, and you are following their example?

Are we obeying the Scriptures and following the example of the Lord Jesus Christ in our treatment of others?  I’m closing with a short prayer that Billy Graham offers in one of his devotionals:  “Heavenly Father, fill me with that supernatural love of Jesus that enables me to reach out to the myriads of people who, in and of myself, would be impossible to love.”

 

 

PRACTICING THE TRUTH – James 1:19-27

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INTRODUCTION: James now comes to the basic theme of his letter:  the importance of behaving like we believe.  In these verses James states that we have three responsibilities toward God’s Word;  and if we fulfill these responsibilities, we will have an honest relationship with God and with others.

I.  PREPARE OURSELVES TO RECEIVE THE WORD (verses 19-21)

Our first responsibility toward God’s Word is to prepare ourselves to receive it.  James says that we can do this by: 1)  Being quick to hear.   To prepare ourselves for the truth, we must be ready to listen to God and to others.  Romans 10:17 says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing  by the Word of God.”  Just as a servant is quick to hear his master’s voice, and a mother is quick to hear her baby’s smallest cry, so the believer should be quick to hear what God has to say.  Listening is a part of loving.  It involves giving of ourselves and our attention wholeheartedly to another person.  And this involves really caring;  setting aside our own concerns and focusing on God or on others.  It’s much easier to find a good speaker than a good listener. 2)  Being slow to speak.  Proverbs 17:27 says, “He who has knowledge spares his words.”  God gave us two ears and one mouth,  which ought to remind us to listen more than we speak.  An anonymous poem goes like this:

A wise old bird sat on an oak.  The more he saw the less he spoke.                         The less he spoke the more he heard.  Lord, make me like that wise old bird.

We learn while listening, not while talking.  Those who want to learn the truth must silence their tongues in order to hear God speak. 3)  Being slow to anger.  Don’t get angry at God or His Word.  A pastor once said:  “Temper is such a valuable thing, it is a shame to lose it!”  It is temper that helps to give steel its strength.  The person who cannot get angry at sin does not have much strength to fight it.  But James warns us against getting angry at God’s Word because it reveals our sins to us.  Like the man who broke the mirror because he didn’t like the image he saw in it, people rebel against God’s Word because it tells the truth about them and their sinfulness.  The story is told that when Leonardo da Vinci was about to paint his masterpiece “The Lord’s Supper”, he had a serious quarrel with another man.  A spirit of revenge began to grow in his heart.  It occurred to him that when he painted the picture of Judas, the one who betrayed the Savior, he could easily make Judas’s face look like the face of his enemy.  And that’s just what Leonardo did.  At last he came to the figure of Jesus.  His attempts to paint his impression of Jesus were a complete failure.  He tried again and again, but still no success.  In his heart he knew why he was having such difficulty.  He finally took his brush and painted out the face of Judas.  Then, going to his enemy, he confessed the ill-will he had been feeling toward him.  With a cleansed mind, he returned to his work and painted the figure of our Lord with the freedom and genius that resulted in a masterpiece.  Leonardo found that when he had evil and revenge in his heart, he was not able to reproduce the likeness of the Master, neither in his own personal life, nor on his canvas.  Anger makes a mess of our lives and blocks God’s truth from coming in. 4)  Having a prepared heart  (verse 21)  James saw the human heart as a garden.  If left to itself the soil would produce nothing but weeds. James urges us to pull out the weeds and prepare the soil for the implanted Word of God.  How?  First, by confessing our sins and asking God to forgive us.  Then by meditating on God’s grace and asking Him to “plow up” any hardness in our hearts.  Finally, we must have an attitude of “meekness”, which is the opposite of wrath.  “Setting aside filthiness” means demonstrating that we appreciate the blessings of God by eliminating the sins and bad habits in our lives that destroy our witness for Christ. One day a preacher visited a coal-mining town and noticed how dingy it was.  The coal dust seemed to blacken the buildings, the trees, the shrubs and everything else.  As he was walking down the street with the foreman of the mine, his attention was focused on a beautiful, white flower.  He said, “The owner of this flower surely must take good care of it.  There’s no dust and dirt on it at all.”  The foreman threw a handful of dust on the flower.  It immediately fell off and left the flower as stainless as before.  “It has a natural enamel which prevents any dust from clinging to it”, the foreman explained.  “I think it must have been created especially for such a place as this.”  This is the way Christians are to be in this world, which is filthy because of the dust and dirt of sin.  God gives a spiritual enamel to those who yield themselves completely to the leadership of the Holy Spirit,  and who  seek to make Jesus Christ the Lord of their lives.

II.  PRACTICE THE WORD (verses 22-25)

It is not enough to hear God’s Word.  James says, in verses 22-25, that our second responsibility toward God’s Word is to practice it.  Many Christians have the mistaken idea that hearing a good sermon or Bible study makes them grow and get God’s blessing.  It’s not the hearing, but the doing, that brings God’s blessing. In verses 23-25, James compares the forgetful hearer with the doer.  The forgetful hearer is like the person who looks at himself in the mirror, notices his uncombed hair, dirty face, and unbrushed teeth, and instead of taking care of himself, he goes on his way, forgetting all about the problems and presenting a very unattractive appearance to others.  In the same way, a Christian who hears God’s Word without doing anything about it,  turns other people away from the Savior, rather than drawing them to Him. A bus driver became annoyed with his job because he had to wait seven minutes after every run near an open field which “litterbugs” had made into an “unofficial dump”.  He often thought that someone ought to do something about that unsightly mess.  One day he himself decided to get out and pick up some of the tin cans and other debris which were lying all around.  This improved things so much that he soon was eager to complete his route and spend all his free moments in cleaning up the area.  When spring came, he was so enthusiastic about his project that he decided to plant some flower seeds.  By the end of the summer many people were riding to the end of the line just to see what the bus driver had accomplished by “doing” what he and others had only “talked about” before.  Are you brightening the corner where you are? In verse 25, the words “looks intently” come from the Greek word which means “to stoop down”.  It refers to the Christian who humbles himself before the Word of God and lets God’s Word become a part of him, so that he becomes more like Christ in his attitudes and actions.  I have been reading from a daily devotional by Billy Graham, and in yesterday’s devotion on becoming like Christ, he said a few words that convicted me so much that I wrote them on a piece of paper so that I could put it in my wallet as a reminder.  Speaking to Christians, he said these words:  “You should be closer to God today in heart, soul, and body, than at any other time in your life.”

III.  SHARE THE WORD (verses 26,27)

In verses 26 and 27, James tells us that our third responsibility to God’s Word is to share it.  James gives us three tests to enable us to find out if we are taking God’s Word seriously.  The first test is self-control.  Are we able to control our speech so that we’re not lying, gossiping, or using filthy language.  The second test is compassion.  Are we concerned about the needs of others, and are we demonstrating that concern.  The third test is  holiness of life. Noah sent out two birds from the ark.  One was a raven – a ceremonially unclean animal;  the other was a dove, which was a clean animal and became the symbol of the Holy Spirit and holiness.  The raven did not return to the ark, even though the waters were still upon the earth.  No doubt it found a place to rest upon the floating body of some animal.  The second bird, however,  a ceremonial clean creature, returned to Noah for she could find “no rest for the sole of her foot.”  The dove would not land on an unclean thing like a corpse!  Someone has said, “In a world of sin we too have the choice of being a raven or a dove, unclean or clean, spotted or unspotted.  By the power of God’s grace, let’s keep ourselves uncontaminated by the things of the world.  While the Christian must live in the world, he should not let the world live in him..

CONCLUSION:  No sermon is done until we have done something about it.  As the apostle James said:  “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only”.  May our prayer be that of the hymn writer, Ira Wilson:  “O Savior, I pray, Make me a blessing to someone today.”

HOW TO OBTAIN WISDOM – James 1:5-8

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INTRODUCTION: Someone has said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together and make sense of them.  The people to whom James wrote this letter had problems with their praying.  When we are going through difficulties, what should we pray about?  James gives the answer:  ask God for wisdom.

I.  ASK FOR WISDOM (verse 5)

Why do we need wisdom when we are going through trials?  Why not ask for strength, or grace, or even deliverance?  We should pray for wisdom for this reason:  we need wisdom so that we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature in our Christian lives.  Wisdom helps us understand how to use these difficult circumstances for our good and for God’s glory.  This kind of wisdom comes from God.  It is a gift from God.  God’s wisdom enables a person to make decisions as God would make them, and solve problems the way God would solve them. In his search of the source of true wisdom, Job cries out, “But where can wisdom be found?”  His answer is that wisdom is not found among the living on this earth;  it is not found in the depths of the sea;  and it cannot be purchased with precious stones.  Finally Job declares, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.”  True wisdom has its source in the true and living God. We all have a natural tendency to be selfish in our prayers.  Some of us recall how we were tempted to ask God for special help when facing a difficult examination during our school days, but in our hearts we knew He would not bring to our minds material which we had not studied.  Prayer is not a magical formula enabling believers to escape self-discipline and hard work.  However, it isn’t selfish to pray for spiritual wisdom – the ability to meet life’s problems and to make decisions that will please God.  King Solomon, with all his knowledge, realized that unless the Lord gave him spiritual wisdom to direct his actions, all his human skill and learning would be of littlevalue. President Abraham Lincoln was impressed with this truth during America’s Civil War.  A personal friend of his once wrote, “I had been spending three weeks at the White House as the guest of the President.  One night – it was just before the Battle of Bull Run, I was restless and could not sleep.  From Lincoln’s bedroom I heard the low tones of his voice.  Looking in the door that was slightly ajar, I saw a sight which I have never forgotten.  The tall Chief Executive was kneeling before an open Bible.  He did not know that I could overhear his agonizing prayers as he pleaded, ‘O Thou great God that heard Solomon in the night when he prayed and cried for wisdom, hear me.  I cannot lead these people.  I cannot guide the affairs of this country without Thy help.  O Lord, hear me and save this nation.’ ”  The answer he received is now history, for the Union was preserved.  Lincoln found that James 1:5 was not an idle promise.

II.  ASK IN FAITH (verses 6-8)

James not only explained what to ask for, but he also described how to ask.  We are to ask in faith.  The greatest enemy to answered prayer is unbelief.  The story is told of a small town in which there were no liquor stores.  Eventually, however, a nightclub was built right on Main Street.  Members of one of the churches in the area were so disturbed that they conducted several all-night prayer meetings, and asked the Lord to burn down that den of iniquity.  Lightning struck the tavern a short time later, and it was completely destroyed by fire.  The owner, knowing how the church people had prayed, sued them for the damages.  His attorney claimed that their prayers had caused the loss.  The congregation, on the other hand, hired a lawyer and fought the charges.  After much deliberation, the judge declared, “It’s the opinion of this court that wherever the guilt may lie, the tavern keeper is the one who really believes in prayer, while the church members do not!”  We smile at this story, but it suggests how faithless we sometimes are when we offer our prayers to God. Even the first-century Christians were guilty of such unbelief.  Acts 12 tells us that after Peter escaped from prison, he went to the house of Mary, where many were praying for his release.  When he knocked, Rhoda came to the door.  Hearing his voice, she ran back to the “prayer meeting crowd” and announced that the apostle Peter was outside.  “You are out of you mind!”, they said.  But when she insisted, they kept saying, “It is his angel”.  Well, Peter kept on knocking at the door, and when they finally let him in, “they were astonished” at the way God had answered their request. May our attitude be different when we pray!  Let’s believe God and expect the answer!  God loves to honor the prayers of those who earnestly seek His wisdom and want His will for their lives. Verse 8 talks about a double-minded person.  A double-minded person is a person who has a civil war going on inside him continually.  Two heads may be better than one, but a double-minded person is no good at all.  There is a smooth, shiny lizard called a skink.  This little animal wouldn’t attract any crowds at a zoo, but if one of these lizards showed up with two heads, one on each end of its body, that would be quite a spectacle.  A newspaper had a picture and a story about the two-headed skink I just described to you.  It was found by a homeowner in Jacksonville, Florida, and it was an illustration of absolute frustration.  When it tried to run, its two legs moved in opposite directions.  It was running like mad but going nowhere!  That’s the fate of a Christian who is trying to go his own way, and trying to serve the Lord at the same time. This is also true of the Christian who is more concerned about pleasing others than he is about standing up for the truth.  There was once a preacher who was approached by some members of his congregation concerning a disagreement in the church.  After stating their grievances, they said some vicious things about the people they disagreed with.  Responding to their complaints, the preacher said, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!”  The next day, the other group came to his home and told their side of the story.  The preacher listened quietly, and when they had finished, said, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!”  His wife, working in the kitchen, overheard everything.  As soon as the parishioners left, she rushed into the living room and said, “You’re just about the most wishy-washy individual I’ve ever seen.”  To that he immediately replied, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!” There are so many Christians who are unwilling to take a stand on issues.  Some are afraid;  others just don’t like to make decisions.  But God wants us to know His Word, to pray for His wisdom, and to take a stand for what we believe.  Then we’ll feel secure in the Lord’s strength, and then our prayers will not be hindered.  But when we do take a stand for what we believe, let’s do it with the wisdom and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.