(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

W. Wiersbe in his book, 'Be Mature', writes: The way we behave towards people indicates what we really believe about God. It is no good, for example, professing to love God if we hate our brother. The apostle John argues that it is so much easier to love our brother than to love God: If anyone says, "I love God", yet hates his brother he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1John4v20. Jesus actually tells his followers: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Matthew5v44and45. Yet we find it difficult to love our fellow Christians who differ from us in doctrine, or Christians who are smelly, grubby, ignorant, ugly, old and awkward. I was talking to a friend of mine about the pernicious policy of the Association of Churches to which I belong that only invites pastors and elders to meet together on condition that the are committed to the Articles of Faith of our Association. In other words fellowship is conditional, not on belief in Jesus Christ, but on assent to a set of doctrines. My friend replied, "No! No! Not fellowship - only intimate fellowship." What could be more intimate than the fellowship between God the Father and God the Son. Jesus said, "I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." John17v20and21. Anyone who puts up barriers to intimate fellowship between genuine believers in Jesus is not in the will of God.

James uses four arguments to dissuade Christians from showing favouritism:

(1)The example of Jesus. My brothers as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ don't show favouritism. v1.

If we believe in Jesus then surely we must follow his example. He did not show favouritism. This was recognised even by his enemies. A mixed delegation of Pharisees and Herodians said to him: "Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are." Mt22v16.

Jesus did not curry favour with the people who mattered. There have not been many like him! Ghandi, a Hindu, but student of the gospels did emulate Jesus in this respect. He took up the cause of the Untouchables in India. He gave them a new name, Harijans - the children of God. Ghandi called them his brothers and stayed at their homes whenever he could. After independence when other Indian leaders urged Lord Mountbatten to accept the honorary post of Governor General Ghandi proposed an Untouchable sweeper girl - 'of stout heart, incorruptible and crystal like in her purity.' Needless to say she didn't get the post!

When Jesus went to dinner with Simon the Pharisee he could have cultivated an influential contact. Instead he offended him by allowing a common prostitute to bath his feet with tears, shower them with kisses, wipe them with her hair and anoint them with perfumed oil.

Christians should avoid the temptation to keep in with the right people at the cost of personal integrity. This can happen in religious circles. It is all too easy to tell people what they want to hear in order to win a reputation and to become the darling of an association, denomination or even a faction.

The second thing for Christians to remember is that Jesus was despised and rejected of men. He was raised in the wrong town of poor parents. His father was only a carpenter. Jesus was uneducated. He didn't belong to any party and no one of any significance supported him. When the temple guard who had been sent to arrest Jesus went back to the chief priests and Pharisees and said, "No-one ever spoke the way this man does;" ... the Pharisees retorted, "Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law - there is a curse on them." John7v48.

We need to be very careful how we judge others. It is easy to dismiss a person's views with the words, "Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?" We may rely more on the views of the people who matter than our own discernment.

It is also easy to overlook the genuine saint. See exposition on Mt5v3. My grandfather Reed was one. He was an unworldly market gardener who could have got rich in the Second World War but didn't. Instead he gave good measure. He also had a list of charities that he contributed to regularly. My grandmother considered him a soft touch! Whenever he wrote to me he included a few words on behalf of his Saviour hoping that Jesus would be my Saviour too. He was a humble, affectionate man who showed great delicacy in his dealings with women. He was little thought of in Christian circles, perhaps because he was profoundly deaf, but his was the Kingdom of Heaven.

(2) God's choice. 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 love him? v5.

This is also the message of Paul to the Corinthians: Brothers think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential, not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1Cor1v26to27.

In spite of the clear teaching of Scripture Christians continue to show partiality to the rich. I do not think the situation is as bad as it was 80 years ago. Some of the very oldest people who attend my chapel can still remember a time when there was one door for the rich and another for the poor. All the well-to-do farmers came in the front door and sat in the front pews and the poor came in the back door and sat at the back or in the gallery.

Partiality toward the rich is not as blatant now but still it persists. There is a tendency to elect successful men of business to positions of influence within the church. We place undue value on the testimony of famous or notorious people - sport stars, entertainers, entrepreneurs, politicians and villains. How is their testimony more important than that of a shop worker or labouring man? People who organise special meetings and evangelical rallies rarely ask someone as ordinary as a road sweeper or schoolteacher to give their testimony. Since being made redundant at the age of 52 my dear old friend John Ely is sweeping the streets of Ipswich. His conversion to Christianity was just as important to Jesus as the conversion of the chief executive of a high street bank. Thirdly, and very sadly, many large well-attended churches look to appoint as pastor and leader someone who is rich in talent. See, 'What about the Manager' in my exposition on Phil1v27to30. It is doubtful whether these carnal churches would ever appoint a man like Paul. Paul reminds the Corinthians who were becoming obsessed with personalities: When I came to you brothers I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's powers. 1Cor2v1to5.

(3) The Royal Law. If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, "Love your neighbour as yourself," you are doing right.v8.

When Jesus was asked by an expert in the law: "Teacher what is the greatest commandment in the law?" He replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Jesus did not like everyone equally. He had a special affection for John the Son of Thunder and Mary, Martha and Lazarus were his friends. But Jesus did not have favourites because he loved his neighbour as himself.

Jesus did not show partiality to his mother and his brothers. On one occasion they came to see him but could not get near him because of the crowd. Someone informed Jesus that his family were present and desired to see him. Jesus replied: "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice." Lk8v21. Jesus' nearest and dearest are all those who believe in him.

Much harm is caused to the church where natural family ties are stronger than the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. There is great danger whenever family cliques exist in a church. Inter-family rivalries can exist. It has been known for entire families to leave a church if the pastor upsets one of their members. This is all wrong. Jesus is every Christian's living head. We belong to his family. Our first loyalty should be to him and his. Jesus expects Christians to love one another. Yet, I know very many worthy Christians who do put their own family first. I can remember attending a funeral where it was all kept in the family and no representative of the local church was asked to participate. How can this be right?

Jesus did not show partiality towards those for whom he had natural affection and friendship. On the resurrection morn he did not appear first to John or Lazarus but to Mary Magdalene - one of his poorer students. She was the one who in the depths of grief and despair needed him most.

It is wrong to show partiality towards those that we like. The plank of bias distorts the vision of many Christians. At an election for deacons we should not vote for those we like but for those we believe are best qualified for the task. We should not be selective in whom we visit or help. It is easy to help those you like. Jesus said "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?" Mt5v46. We have to help those we don't like.

A fortnight ago I went to visit my brother and his wife in Clapham. On Wednesday afternoon I attended the 'Drop in' at my brother's church. The church at Courland Grove does not place any restrictions on who can drop in and as a consequence some difficult characters attend. One woman, who sleeps rough on the streets and is aggressive and violent when drunk, comes from time to time. She was there the day I visited. Thankfully she wasn't drunk! But she was still very awkward. She remained behind for the Bible study and kept interrupting Eddy, the speaker, passing comments on the bus he drove! "I've been on your old bus. I know your old bus. I've slept on that old bus - you can't tell me anything about your old bus." Well Eddy wasn't trying to tell her anything about his bus! I have to say he kept calm and dealt with the interruptions with good humour. They certainly kept his 'better half' amused! My brother and his wife are kind and patient with the lady of the streets. I noticed that she had a good meal and left with two bags of clothing in high good humour.

Jesus did not show partiality to any particular class of person. He felt impelled to go through Samaria because there was a woman he needed to meet by Jacob's well. No respectable Jew would have passed the time of day with a promiscuous Samaritan woman. Jesus did not see her so much as what she had been as what she could be.

So we should be very carefully not to discriminate against any particular group. Fifty years ago the fundamentalist white churches in the Southern States of America must have grieved the Saviour by their attitude to black people. Today, in Britain, there is a tendency to glorify youth and ignore the old. No one should be invisible in Christ's church - black, old, poor, the uncouth or the uninteresting.

(4) Mercy takes precedence. Mercy triumphs over judgment! v13.

James warns us that: Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. v13. The poor are often judged without mercy.

Just consider what is said of those poor in this world's goods: God helps those that help themselves; they waste money; she's a poor manager; all their money goes up in smoke; they've no initiative. Those are judgments without mercy.

Just consider what is said of those poor in personal appearance and personality: why doesn't she diet; she could make more of herself; what she needs is a makeover; he doesn't make any effort to be sociable; why doesn't he get himself a new suit; what a bore; what a charm less individual; he doesn't exactly help himself. Those are judgments without mercy.

Just consider how we react to preachers without talent: he should never be allowed into the pulpit; I'm going to tell the church secretary just what I think of his choice of speakers; my time would have been better spent reading a good book; I'm never, never going to listen to that preacher again; next time he is booked to speak I'm going somewhere else. Those are judgments without mercy.

I am very much afraid Christians are not immune from making judgments without mercy. I can remember many years ago speaking at an independent Baptist church. In the course of my sermon I said that I didn't think smoking the occasional cigar was the gravest of sins. At the end of the service the church secretary was almost foaming at the mouth. He was incoherent with anger but he managed to splutter, "We're big against smoking in this church." I never preached there again. I was judged without mercy. That church, big against smoking, has since closed. If it had been bigger on mercy, perhaps, it would have survived. But, there again, maybe I am judging without mercy!

God's mercy triumphed over judgment when he sent his Son into the world to be the Saviour of men. He expects his followers to exercise mercy when dealing with their fellows. Nothing could be clearer than Jesus words: "Do not judge; or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Mt7v1and2. We are to judge with mercy - those who disagree with us, those who don't like us, those who wrong us and those whose sins are especially repugnant to us. I find homosexuality repugnant but I need to remember my own sexual sins of voyeurism and lust before I judge without mercy.

Today's Daily Telegraph reported that a catholic teacher lost her job after a civil wedding, that a Muslim was sacked from his rail job over the length of his beard and on the schism in the Free Church of Scotland. I was appalled to read in the item on the latter:
Eight years ago, Prof Donald Macleod, a senior figure in the church, was wrongly accused of indecently assaulting four women.
The sheriff who cleared him said the entire case was a conspiracy cooked up by other churchmen who detested his "liberal views" such as allowing women to go hatless in church.

Words fail me! These legalistic, judgmental groups are as far removed from the spirit of Christ as the Pharisees who opposed him during his earthly ministry. Our entire salvation, our membership of God's family, our hope of eternal life depends upon the Father's mercy triumphing over judgment.

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