Friday, January 18, 2013

How Favoritism leads to man-centered Christianity

James 2:1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.

The Danger of showing favoritism - man centered Christianity
James' key point in his letter is concerned with "living working faith", as seen in James 2:26 - "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." As James writes to Jewish Christians scattered throughout the regions of Israel and beyond, he communicates to them the type of Christian faith desired by the Lord.  As we turn to chapter 2 of James' letter, we see a warning about "showing favoritism" in the local church.  The Greek word translated "favoritism" could be rendered "being a man-pleaser".  How often in churches today do you see favoritism or "man-pleasing" determining decisions and policies?

Bible teacher R.C Sproul in his study on James refers to this warning on favoritism as "playing politics".  Clearly whenever we try to please one group over another, or whenever we "cave in" to the whims and desires of certain people - we end up being man-centered in our ministry and Christianity.  What James is warning us to avoid in this subject of "showing favoritism" is people-pleasing, man centered Christianity.  It is a guarantee, wherever you see man, rather than Jesus Christ being the focal point of all efforts in your personal life or Church, somewhere along the way favoritism has reared its ugly head.   

God does not show favoritism
The testimony of scripture is that in all of God's dealings with people, whether they be believer or unbeliever, is the fact that He does not show favoritism.  Passages such as Psalm 89:14 states - "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
Lovingkindness and truth go before You."  God is a fair God.  No one can influence God to adjust standards or pull some strings to accomplish an agenda that would violate His character.  God does what He does for His own glory and purposes. (Isaiah 48:11)  When we turn to the New Testament, time and time again we read of how God does not show favoritism for the sake of anyone. (Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25) 

The Specific consequences of showing favoritism (people pleasing)
So what specific consequences come about when we show favoritism?  Man-centered Christianity becomes the overall outcome.  Ironically, in an effort to focus more on people, man-centered forms of Christianity end up being less loving.  The more we try to please men, the less we will be like Jesus.  As you journey through James 2:1-13, four damaging consequences result from trying to please certain people rather than pleasing God:

1. Less love in your heart for Jesus.  James 2:1-4
As James speaks about the manner in which you "hold to your faith in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ", the NASB words the statement in 2:1 as "with an attitude of favoritism".  Clearly the issue of showing favoritism affects the heart we have towards Jesus Christ, since such activity leads to us becoming "judges with evil motives". (2:4)  The phrase rendered "evil motives" speaks of "disputes, arguments and schemes" that are characterized as welcoming the company of evil.  Whenever we allow such evil motives to creep into our hearts, the love of Jesus will quickly grow cold.  Thus favoritism leads to less love for Jesus, but notice what else favoritism leads to...

2. Less love for God's glory. James 2:5-7
As James continues, he says in James 2:5 "Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?"  In typical Jewish style, James uses the word "Listen" to get his reader's attention.  Moses back in Deuteronomy 5:1 and 6:4 tells the people "Hear, O Israel" - so we know that what ever James is going to say, we need to heed.  Clearly showing favoritism and preferring one person over another causes the name of God to be blasphemed - which leads to less love of God's glory. (James 2:5)  God's name and glory are interrelated.  For example, Exodus 33:18-19 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” 19And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”  The name of God refers to the sum total of His goodness, character and reputation.  God has invested His name and reputation into His very people.  How we treat one another ultimately reflects how we treat Jesus, as Jesus Himself explains in passages such as Matthew 25:45 “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me."  Favoritism or partiality among God's people causes less love for Jesus and.....

3. Less love for God's word. James 2:8-11
To show partiality is characterized by James as violating God's Law.  In fact, the second greatest commandment according to Jesus is to "love your neighbor as oneself" (Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:28-34)  When we show partiality, we are doing the exact opposite of loving our neighbor.  To be a man-pleaser or show partiality makes me a "trangressor" (2:9,11) and guilty (2:10) as a lawbreaker.  Whenever we cater to certain people, rather than loving people with God's love, the net result is less love, less regard and less desire for God's Word.  But notice finally.....

4. Less love for one another. James 2:12-13
Certainly whenever we show partiality or become more "man-pleasing" with one another, how we treat one another will change.  When you look at James 2:1-13, you get the sense of a downward spiral effect stemming from ongoing efforts in preferential treatment of one person or group over another.  Mercy and lovingkindness are translated by the same Hebrew word in the Old Testament.  Micah 6:8 reveals the true nature of what God desires from His people - "He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?1 John 4:7-21 mentions the importance of loving one another as being the antidote to the relational problems that arise among fellow believers.   

So many of our churches could benefit immeasureably from James' words if they would just simply stop showing preferential treatment and quit pleasing people over and above Christ.  When we show favoritism, we end up having less love for Jesus, God's glory, God's word and one another.  Tomorrow we will look at 1 John 4:7-21 to discover the way in which we can get back to a God-centered Christianity. 

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