The Value of a Human Being

Our community has expanded with new buildings due to large gifts from wealthy people with generous hearts. Recognition for those gifts by giving the building their names and giving them the best seats in the house when attending events is appropriate. Perhaps their generosity will inspire others. However, recognizing great things that happen in the community by certain people and favoritism in the church are two very different things.

For those who have been redeemed by trusting Jesus, God can expect a different kind of life. James saw some of the favoritism. He is used by God to make a believer’s lifestyle more Christlike. In God’s eyes all people are important because of who they are and not by what they have accomplished. The gift of a philanthropist can be acknowledged in the community, but it does not make him more precious in God’s eyes, nor should he be treated with favoritism in the church of Jesus Christ because of his social status and his generous spirit.

We are all guilty in the church of showing some favoritism. A special worth seems to be assigned to people in the church for sundry reasons. Our city has been blessed the last few years with buildings that make it a nicer place to live. There is a new library, a fine arts building, and two athletic facilities. None of these buildings would have been constructed if it had not been for large gifts from wealthy people with generous hearts. I believe the community is correct in making their gifts known and in some way giving these major donors recognition. It would be proper that favoritism be shown to these friends by identifying the buildings with their names or by reserving the best seats in the house for their use. Perhaps their generosity will inspire other wealthy people to share some of their money with the community.

However, in our text James writes, “My brothers, as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, do not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts” (1-4)?

James is being used by God to make the believer’s lifestyle more Christlike. God created all of us in His image. When we fell into sin, He sent his Son to die as a payment for our sins. For those who receive Christ as Savior and Lord, He calls us to be his ambassadors. In God’s eyes, all people are important, because of who they are and not by what they have accomplished. The gift of a philanthropist does not make him more precious in God’s eyes, nor should he be treated with favoritism in the Church of Jesus Christ because of his social status.

However, James detected favoritism as he walked among the people of God in his congregation. A special worth seems to be assigned to certain people in the church for sundry reason. Let me give you a few examples.

Fifty years ago the members of the congregation I served often celebrated with large dinners and elaborate open houses when a son or daughter was confirmed. My wife was very careful to write down the invitations as we received them and then we visited the families in order that the invitations were received. Our first visit was to a dinner at the home of a confirmation student whose parents were very affluent and lived in a large expensive home. The second invitation came from a family with meager means and who lived in a modest house. She asked if we would come to dinner. My wife explained that we had accepted an invitation to dinner but would be delighted to come for supper. When we arrived at the supper hour, the mother announced to the other guests that “In our church, we have a pastor for the poor and one for the rich. We should not have the senior pastor for dinner, but he was willing to come for supper.”

Both my wife and I were crushed. While we were innocent in this case, this woman has expressed a hurt that had come from another time. We just laughed it off at the time, but during the week I visited with the family and told them how badly we felt. We loved them and wanted to be the pastor of every member of the congregation.

The mother apologized for her remark and then began to weep. She assured me that it was nothing we had done, but through their many years in the congregation they had felt like second-class members. They had never been asked to help in Sunday school. They had never served on a committee in the congregation. She said those opportunities were given to the more prominent members in the church, those who families had been members for many years.

Shortly after our visit, we received into membership fifty or more new members. After the service, a member stated, “Isn’t it thrilling to have Dr. So and so? I hope we can feed him and his family with God’s Word and give them an opportunity to serve the Lord through our congregation.” But I was just as thrilled to have the other forty-eight people who became a part of our fellowship this morning and had the same wish for them.

The hurt mother of the confirmation student had interpreted God’s Word to me in such a way that I haven’t forgotten in fifty years later. “As believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, do not show any favoritism.” It is one thing to acknowledge large gifts in the community. However, there is no place for favoritism in God’s family.

James continues, “Listen my dear brothers; has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who loved him? But you have insulted the poor” (5-6).

Think about it. Why did God choose Mary to be the mother of Christ in the flesh? Why was it not the daughter of some prominent leader? If Herod had a daughter, why was she not chosen?

Why did Jesus choose the disciples he did? Why were they not the prestigious leaders of society in his day? Wouldn’t he have had a better chance of being accepted by the populace had these people who surrounded him not been fishermen or a tax collector but members of the Jerusalem establishment?

Jesus looked for people with certain abilities, personalities and used them in different assignments, knowing each one was equally as precious to His father as the other.

While Jesus showed no favoritism among his disciples, he realized that some had different talents than the others. Peter was more of a leader than his brother Andrew and was used in that way. However, this by no means gave him preferential treatment. St. Paul was the dynamic leader of Jesus Christ in the Gentile world. However, he deserved no more favoritism than his coworker, Silas.

Consider a loving family who has many children. Their children are different. Some have talents in athletics, others in the academics, still others in music, and one is disabled. Should the family show favoritism toward any of them? No. The disabled child will need more attention, but no more favoritism.

Rose Kennedy has had the admiration of millions in our world. She had a son who became President of the United States, two sons who have served in the U.S. Senate, several daughters who have been leaders in their own right, and one who was born mildly disabled and today lives in a care center. Rose Kennedy loved them all, not least her daughter with limited ability.

In a secular society, to show no favoritism is pure nonsense. We wine and dine those who have the ability to do us or the cause we represent some good. We operate with the philosophy expressed in the saying, You scratch my back and I will scratch yours.

It is because we live in this culture that James warns there shall be none of this in the Church of Jesus Christ so once more the inspired writer says, “As believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.”

Is Christianity the Greatest Spectator Sport in the World?

America is a sports-minded nation. Stadiums and sport arenas, with very expensive admission tickets, are sold out week after week. It is interesting that only a few of the spectators become seriously involved with the sport they go to watch. They are satisfied to watch the performance of great athletes.

At lunch the other day I asked my grandson if he missed playing basketball. He was an outstanding basketball player in high school. “Not at all,” he replied. “It was fun in high school, but now as a college student I am content to be a spectator.”

Can we make a comparison with the athletic world and our Christian faith? Could it be said that Christianity is the greatest spectator sport in the world? Every week millions of people go to church but never become seriously involved with the biblical mission of the church Ð to lead others to Christ. Large number of people meet for Bible study weekly. Are these Bible studies life-changing events, or are they primarily social gatherings around a lively biblical discussion? We know that great things have happened in lives where the Holy Spirit has worked through the Word. However, many have refused to let the Holy Spirit change their lives as they have heard the Word.

Every congregation has the faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ who are being used mightily by the Holy Spirit. A few of these servants are well known, but the vast majority go about quietly living their lives for Christ saying a good word for him whenever there is an opportunity. These people cannot be overlooked. However, the truth is there are more spectators than participants in the Christian church.

Who are these spectators? They are good people, many who confess faith in Christ, but it stops there. They are very interested in the church and support it with their time and money. They criticize the church when it is weak, and praise it when it is strong. Nevertheless, they have never become involved in sharing the Gospel and telling an unbeliever what Christ has done for them.

It is to the spectator that James tells us to move from the bleachers to the playing field. Do not merely listen to the word. Do what it says.

What pulls us from the bleachers and onto the playing field? It is a personal meeting with Jesus Christ and walking with him daily. If we are convinced that a heavenly home is awaiting us and a Savior stands beside us, we will want to share the truths of the Gospel with others. If we are convinced that all we have comes from God, then we will hear his voice telling us to share our abundance with others who are in need.

When we hear God’s Word telling us that a religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and it keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” we minister first to their souls, then to their bodies while we are citizens of this world.

Back to the athletic world. Athletes’ working days are limited. The more physical the sport the earlier they retire. Arnold Palmer, Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Vince Lombardi, and a host of others will long be remembered. They are filed away in the Halls of Fame waiting for other great athletes to join them. Meanwhile, they have crawled onto the bleachers with the rest of the spectators.

Not so in the Christian church where there is no retirement for Christ’s ambassadors until they arrive at their heavenly home. What a joy to keep on playing until that day comes when we no longer are citizens of this planet!

Do you want an exciting life, not matter what your age might be? Then take these inspired words of James seriously, and you will soon see the difference between being the spectator and player.

Lord, Give Me Wisdom

You have heard the saying, book-wise and street-dumb. Here is another saying: Biblically wise and spiritually uncommitted.

This is what James talks about as he helps us mature in the Christian faith. We can have a faith, though it may be weak. However, we need to grow up spiritually. As we mature in the faith, it shows itself in our relationship with God and with people. Last week James pointed out that trials and temptations can strengthen our faith. During those difficult times we see how dependent we are on God for strength, direction, and forgiveness. St. Paul says, “It is when I am weak that I am strong.” Today James says that we mature as we grow spiritually wise.

What is spiritual wisdom? The dictionary defines wisdom as applied knowledge. Charles Swindoll says, “Spiritual wisdom is viewing life as God perceives it.” C. J. A. Motyer writes, “If we say about someone, ÔHe knows his Bible well,’ we have described a knowledgeable person. Yet, if he also knows how to understand life and the world around him to guide his and others’ conduct in the maze of life’s problems, then knowledge has passed over into wisdom.”

James writes, “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

We have many examples of applied knowledge. That means the person is wise in some particular way, though it may often be very unethical. A man in the town where I grew up was often called “white rat.” One day I asked my father where he got that title. Dad told me that people gave him that title because he had become very wealthy in transacting some real estate dealings. He could find people who were on the verge of losing their house because they could not make the mortgage payments. This man would take over their mortgage on their house, and they would in turn give him their house. Often there was considerable equity in the building, which the poor person lost, and “white rat” received.

This man had some basic knowledge about finance. He also knew how to apply this knowledge for his own benefit. Some would say “white rat” was financially wise although he hurt many people.

In contrast, the spiritually-wise person is applying his knowledge to help people. Jesus, on the cross, could have spoken harshly at the people who were putting him to death. Instead he prayed, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”

Stephen, when being stoned to death, could have cursed his enemies. Instead he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not lay this sin against them.”

Zacchaeus, after his conversion, said, “Lord, half of my wealth I give to give to the poor, and if I have stolen from anyone, I want to repay them fourfold.”

These were spiritually-wise people who turned their knowledge into wisdom.

Swindoll said, “Wisdom is to view life as God sees it.” How important it is for people of all ages to pray for this kind of wisdom. The young person contemplating marriage needs to be spiritually wise. The Bible says that we are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. It is not enough for the young person to know this scripture passage. He or she is to apply it when choosing their spouse for life. The thought of marrying an unbeliever with the idea of making them a Christian is not wise. So, in those emotional hours when this young woman is choosing a husband who will be the father of their children, her prayer should be, “Lord, give me the wisdom to do your will, even though it is difficult now.”

Parents who are in the midst of raising their children can go to all of the classes on raising children and know what the Bible has to say about it. However, they need to pray, “God, give me the wisdom to raise my children as you have taught me to do.” This sometimes takes much strength because God’s ways of raising children and society’s ways are not always the same.

When you are old, it is necessary ask God for wisdom to keep you going and using you however he can, but never, never to say, “This is the way we used to do it.” Believe me: Moving your knowledge into wisdom at that point in life is sometimes difficult.

We all need to ask God to make us wise when it comes to our salvation! We know that we are sinners and that at the cross Christ paid the price for our sins. We know that if we confess our sins and trust Him, he will forgive us. Now our prayer should be, “Lord, give me wisdom to leave it all in your hands. Draw me closer to you. Help me love you more and wisely live according to your will.”

Just remember, “Spiritual wisdom is to view life as God perceives it.”

Spiritual Maturity

James, the half-brother of Jesus, was a pastor in Jerusalem. On his pastoral visits, James became very much aware of his members’ spiritual maturity. If all was going well in their lives, they were strong in the faith. When difficult times came, they asked, “Where is God in all of this?” The following could have been the story of a family who belonged to the Jerusalem church:

It was Monday morning, and a member from James’ congregation had arrived at his office. The owner of the business confronted him with this statement: “I understand you are a Christian.” The member confessed to his boss that he did indeed trust Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. The owner looked him square in the eye and said, “Deny Christ right now or you have no job!” The employee needed work, but he could not deny his Lord. He was out of work.

Arriving home he broke the bad news to his family. The children were not surprised, nor was his wife. She said, “It is obvious that we are no longer on the social calendar of our neighborhood, and the children have been telling us for a long time how they are mistreated by their peers.” However, the biggest blow came when their own parents broke off the relationship with them because they claimed Jesus as Lord and promised Messiah. How could their parents reject their own flesh and blood? Yet this family was disowned by those nearest to them.

Pastor James sensed their disappointment and heartache. He realized how difficult life was for them. But to entertain the thought of denying Christ Ð feeling that the Savior had let them down Ð was evidence of their spiritual immaturity.

J. A. Motyer has said, “Christians are a Ôspecial people’, but not a Ôprotected species.'”

Jesus said, “A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Matthew 10:36).

The Lord reminds us of how he was treated in his own hometown of Nazareth: “All the people in the synagogue were furious. They got up and drove him out of town” (Luke 4:28-29).

Then Jesus warns, “No servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16).

James realized that spiritual immaturity was common among Christians. So when he wrote his book to Christians scattered around the world, he said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-3).

Because of our need to grow spiritually, we will spend the next few weeks, God willing, listening to God speak through His servant James, Pastor of the Church in Jerusalem.

Our hardships prompt the questions, Why did God send this trial? and Where is God in times of trial?

Verse 13 tells us that God tempts no one. “When tempted no one should say, ÔGod is tempting me’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone, but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and then enticed.”

When we are honest, we have to answer the question, Who brought on this trial? In most cases, not in all, we or another human being, are often the culprits. Yet it is so easy to blame God.

I think of the case where a young man was killed when a drunk driver hit his car. The father’s first thoughts were, “Why did God permit this? Was it God’s will that this man get drunk?” Such thinking is purely illogical, and the father later agreed.

Yet, while God does not send trials, He does use them to make us mature spiritually. Hear James, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

J. A. Motyer, in his commentary of James, illustrates how trials make us mature. Let me share its content with you.

A young man and woman were attracted to each other. It all began with a casual conversation at a social gathering. The man asks the girl if she would be interested in having dinner with him some evening. She consented, and thus began a courtship that climaxed in a wedding.

During those months of getting acquainted, they realized the weaknesses in the personalities of the other. Their backgrounds were different. But none of these topics were discussed in depth. After the wedding things were different. All the superficiality of their courtship was pushed aside, and they began to talk about their difficulties. The more trials the couple encountered in their lives together, the more their love grew for each other, though it was not always easy. However, by God’s grace, they worked though these difficulties. What began as infatuation developed into a solid marriage which lasted for well over fifty years.

Dr. Motyer uses this story to make the point, “No strong relationships have come to be without trials.”

James then challenges us with this thought: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” The trials will make you stronger people. Trials can destroy relationships, but if God is permitted to use them in our lives, they will help to build a relationship first with God, and then with people.

Examine your trials. God did not send them, but He sure can use them for our good.

The Future Belongs to God

After Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary married and they had a family. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, and the people were amazed at his ability to teach and do miracles.

“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother Mary? Aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Judas and Simeon? Aren’t all of his sisters with us?” (Matthew 13:55) were the common questions as people became more interested in the family.

James, the writer of our text, was the half brother of Jesus. He and his siblings did not believe Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrection. Seeing Jesus, the resurrected One, James was converted. Now Jesus was far more than his brother in the flesh. He was his Savior and Lord; and James became a pastor in the church at Jerusalem.

As the pastor, James lived among the people and (observed their) learned what they were thinking and planning and tried to relate that to the Christian faith. While he rejoiced that many confessed Jesus as their Savior, he was disturbed at the immaturity of their faith. One such immaturity was their understanding of who they were. These early believers still thought they were in charge of their lives and the future belonged to them. They, and they alone, were in complete control of their lives. They called the shots as to what tomorrow would bring.

An example of this type of thinking was the man who planned a business trip where he would buy and sell and become very wealthy. William Barclay, in his commentary, tells that this was the age of founding cities. These founders were anxious to give Jewish people citizenship in their new cities, for when the Jews came, then came trade and money.

As a part of that culture a family had decided that the father would go to one of these cities and work. He would be away from his wife and children for a year, but it would be worth it because he would return to them a wealthy man, and all would live happily every after.

James did not condemn the man’s plans. He only said that the man should have said, “If it is the Lord’s will this is what will happen, but I must remember that the future belongs to God.”

This is a reminder for us as we leave the old year and enter 2005. The Psalmist writes, “Our days are in His hands.” This is a truth that no one can deny. Experience teaches us this truth daily. It would seem that the tragedies of life would show how fragile life is. We are speechless as we learn more about the thousands who have died in the earthquake in the Indian Ocean. We not only see people dying, but death is no respecter of age. The young die, too. We are experiencing that life in these United States is not the same today as it was before nine eleven.

But regardless of all these wake-up calls, it only takes a few days and the brevity of life is forgotten. Life goes on as if we were in complete control.

But you may ask, “Does this text teach us that a well-planned life is wrong?”

Not at all, though taking the text out of context may lead some to this mistaken point of view. There is plenty of material in the Bible that tells us we are to plan for the future. Jesus was always making plans during his three year ministry on earth. He made plans for his disciples. St. Paul made plans. He would write to his friends, “I am planning to come to you soon.”

And so with us. Youth should plan to get a good education. I was thrilled a few days ago when visiting with a youth and asking him what the future had in store for him. He was selling insurance. At the present the young man was learning the basics of the insurance business from one who had enjoyed a successful career, and from there he planned to move on to greater things in the business world. This is as it should be, providing he understands that the future belongs to God.

A life that is lived from one day to the next without any plans for the future or from one pay check to another without any budget, most often ends in chaos. While visiting with a financial planner, he told me that the majority of his clients were people who had severe problems with credit cards. His average client battles a $40,000 credit card debt. This would not have happened had God been leading this person in his spending habits.

There is a saying that was used by Christians of the past Ð “Deo volente”, which means “God willing”. They would often end their correspondence with the two letters, “DV”. There was a saying used by my folks and their friends, “Gud vil or we leve.” This meant “God willing and we live.”

Some would call this thinking morbid or pietistic. James says it is reminding ourselves that the future belongs to God.

Isn’t that a comforting thought as we begin the new year? Hear the prayer of David,

“I trust in you, O Lord;

I say ÔYou are my God.’

My times are in your hands;

deliver me from my enemies

and from those who pursue me.

Let your face shine on your servant;

save me in your unfailing love.”

Psalm 31:14-16