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Favoritism (Part 3 of 6)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
August 31, 2022 4:00 am

Favoritism (Part 3 of 6)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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August 31, 2022 4:00 am

Scripture makes it clear that favoritism is unbiblical. So how did Jesus teach so many people—rich, poor, religious, pagan—without showing partiality? Study along with Truth For Life as Alistair Begg takes a closer look at the example Jesus set for us.



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The Bible makes it clear that showing favoritism is unbiblical. So how did Jesus teach so many people, rich and poor, religious, pagan, without ever showing partiality? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg takes a closer look at the example Jesus set for us.

Now you have your Bible open, I'm sure, at James, but I'd like to reread the first seven verses, this time in J.B. Phillips' paraphrase. So James chapter 2 and verse 1, don't ever attempt my brothers to combine snobbery with faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Suppose one man comes into your meeting well-dressed and with a gold ring on his finger, and another man, obviously poor, arrives in shabby clothes. If you pay special attention to the well-dressed man by saying, please sit here, it's an excellent seat, and say to the poor man, you stand over there please, or if you must, sit on the floor, doesn't that prove that you're making distinctions in your mind and setting yourselves up to assess a man's quality?

A very bad thing. For do notice, my brothers, that God chose poor men whose only wealth was their faith, and made them heirs to the kingdom promised to those who love him. And if you behave as I have suggested, it is the poor man that you're insulting.

Look around you. Isn't it the rich who are always trying to boss you? Isn't it the rich who drag you into litigation?

Isn't it usually the rich who blaspheme the glorious name by which you are known? Amen. Just a brief prayer. Lord, please help us now as we look at these verses. Save us from straying into by-path meadow of conjecture and invention, and keep us on the narrow path of that which is clear and challenging and necessary for Jesus' sake.

Amen. We looked essentially at just the first verse of James chapter 2. My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. And we spent the balance of our time looking at the description which James gives to us, first of all, of his readers, describing them as believers, and then secondly, the description that he gives us of Jesus who is this glorious Lord Jesus Christ, or Jesus Christ of the glory. And what he tells us in this is that our attitude and our actions in relationship to the practicalities that he is about to describe are to be governed by the example and pattern of Jesus. If we want to know how people should be accepted when they come into the community of believers, then we look at the way in which Jesus accepted other people.

If we want to know how appraisals should take place of individual lives, then we need to stand back from the desires and designs that many of us instinctively have to make appraisals on the basis of that which is external and insignificant, and rather, exercise discernment in the way in which Jesus did. Essentially, he is providing for us a call in everything to be like Jesus. In the old days of hymnody, there was a song that was around—I haven't heard it in a hundred years—that had the refrain… Well, actually, the opening lines were, Earthly pleasures vainly call me, I would be like Jesus. Nothing worldly shall enthrall me, I would be like Jesus. It's in the subjunctive, you will notice. Be like Jesus, this my song, in the home and in the throng.

Be like Jesus, all day long I would be like Jesus. So the description that is given to us of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ stands at the very threshold of the instruction which he then provides. And that instruction, you will notice, comes in just a phrase, Don't show favoritism. It's one of those statements that we find ourselves saying, Which part of this don't you understand?

It is impossible for us to miss it. His instruction, and many of us as teachers, might be prepared to learn from him. His instruction is clear, it is concise, it is candid, and it is, quite frankly, courageous. Clear, concise, candid, and courageous. And the reason why James is able to speak with this kind of succinct clarity is because he knows himself to be on absolutely solid ground.

He knows that he is not introducing here some newfangled idea, some dynamic concept that he has dreamt up to offer to his readers of this letter. But in actual fact, he is building on the platform that exists throughout the whole of Scripture. And I don't want to be tedious in doing this, and I'm not going to wait for you to turn up these passages, but I'll tell you where I am in case you choose to check and see whether what I'm telling you is actually there, or for whatever other reason. But I want to just give to you four quotes from the Bible. First of all, in Leviticus and in chapter 19, where in a whole succession of laws and regulations which are firmly based on the Ten Commandments, the people of Israel are instructed as to how they should live in relationship to one another. And so, for example, in verse 11, do not steal, do not lie, do not deceive one another. And then in verse 12, don't swear falsely by my name, don't defraud your neighbor or rob him, don't hold back wages of a man who has been hired overnight, don't curse the death or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, don't pervert justice. Verse 15, and then right in the middle of it all, do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Deuteronomy 10, verse 12, and a little part that follows from it. And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD's commands and decrees that I am giving you today? And legitimately, the person may say, Well, what will it look like if we obey God in this respect, if we love him, if we fear him, if we serve him with all of our hearts, if we observe all of his decrees, and so on?

Well, look down at verse 17. The LORD your God is God of gods and LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality, who accepts no bribes. What is God like? He shows no partiality.

What does he do? Verse 18, he defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and he loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Many of the people of God, both then and now, are tempted to have a very exclusive notion of who my neighbor is.

That was the significance of the story of the Good Samaritan. Who is my neighbor? the person asked Jesus. You shall love your neighbor.

Who's my neighbor? And then Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, which turns everything upside down. But the point that we're noticing is simply that God shows no partiality. In the New Testament, in Luke chapter 20 and in verse 21, so the spies questioned him, Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.

Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not? And Jesus, seeing through the duplicity, said to them, Show me a denarius whose portrait and inscription are on it. Caesar's there replied, and then he gave him that wonderful answer. The reason we're turning there is because they come to him as the teacher, and they say, Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality. And finally, in one section of the Acts, in Acts chapter 10, in that memorable scene where Peter is given an illustration of God's interest in the nations at the house of Cornelius, verse 34, then Peter began to speak, I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You see, he knew that it was true that God does not show favoritism. He was Jewish. He understood the Jewish law. He knew Leviticus. He knew Deuteronomy.

He understood all of that. But nevertheless, his approach to people was not what it needed to be, because he was partial, and he was concerned to display justice and kindness, but in a very exclusive framework. And God had to wean him away from that. Just in the same way that God has to wean many of us away from our own perspective in relationship to the things that James confronts us with here. So the description, then, is given of the readers as believers, of the Lord Jesus as glorious, and then the instruction, which is clear and concise, is backed up by the rest of the Bible, don't show favoritism. And then James is a wonderful teacher that does what every teacher ought to do, and that is open a window of understanding on this concise statement.

Let me, he says, work this out for you in a way that is homely, in an illustration that is down to earth. Let me give you something that you will all be able to understand. Here are two strangers, it would appear, who come into the gathering of God's people, whatever the context might be. If they weren't strangers, then presumably they would know where to go and sit. But it is a difficult thing to go into a place that you don't know. I certainly don't find it easy. And it often isn't easy to go into a church.

It ought to be a lot easier than it is, but many times it's not. And unless somebody is kind and gracious to us and reaches out and realizes that we're fairly clueless and we don't know where we are or where we're going or what to do, then we'll be left just to amble around until finally we drop into a seat. Of course, if we make the mistake of sitting in some hallowed seat that is known only as Mrs. Jenkins' seat, then someone will of course come, if it isn't Mrs. Jenkins herself, and ask for us to be removed to a more suitable seat for ourselves, a suitable seat being any seat other than Mrs. Jenkins' seat. Incidentally, I'm not sure that we have a Mrs. Jenkins in the church, and if we do, please let her know that I had no notion of it and just invented the name from nowhere. But the strangers come in, and one is given a good seat.

That came out quite clearly, didn't it, in the paraphrase by Phillips? The good seat is granted to the man of substance. He's shown special attention. He's wearing fine clothes, and he wears a gold ring. In other words, he just has the elements that identify him as somebody who has made it, somebody who is well off, somebody who perhaps will be able to make a contribution.

And if the people are thinking in those terms, then here they go. Let's make sure that this individual gets a very nice seat. And the other stranger, of course, is a poor man, and he's in shabby clothes. And for him, there is no significant seat at all. In fact, there may be no seat at all for the individual of meager means.

That's the simple illustration. Two folks come into the gathering. One looks like he's got a few dollars in his pocket, and immediately somebody says, Let me try and get you a very nice place to sit. And the other fellow is a bit of a mess, and someone says, Well, just try and find somewhere, and if you don't find a seat, just sit on the floor.

Now, there's something that we need to know here, and it's very important. The context of first-century Judaism, first-century Greek and Roman culture, knew virtually nothing of a middle class. It wasn't at all like this gathering this evening. It wasn't America.

It couldn't be, of course. But when we read this from the perspective of our culture, of our society, it's hard for us to envisage exactly what was described here, because the context was largely that of significant poverty with a few people who were exceptionally rich. Instead of there being sort of a great middle class, it was much more like places in Mexico that I've been or places in Africa that you may have visited, other places in the world where, without the benefits that we enjoy for advancement and so on, there just is a phenomenal disparity between the shabby and the chic. And there is, if you like, no shabby chic. It takes a culture like this to develop shabby chic, to make lousy-looking clothes phenomenally expensive so that significantly rich people can show how significantly rich they are by wearing these phenomenally shabby clothes that testify to the expense involved in making them shabby. Now, we are quite a unique society.

There is no question of that. And therefore, it's important for us to remember that this is an historic context. This is a realistic situation that James is addressing.

But in actual fact, the application to our environment is not too difficult to make. You don't have to go too far back in the culture of Anglicanism—that is, the Anglican Church, what we refer to as the Episcopal Church over here—you don't have to go too far back in Anglicanism, in the British Isles, to find the situation where the wealthy, in a parish, paid an annual rent so as to secure a well-placed seat in the church. That seat or that pew often came with its own door and with its own key, so as to prevent anybody from sitting in Mrs. Jenkins' pew. After all, the rich, who had secured their riches by whatever means, were entitled, so it was thought, to that kind of thing. Those who were not wealthy, those for whom finances were insufficient, had to content themselves with finding a spot in the open seating.

In fact, the seating was identified in the parish churches as free seating. It's not very nice, but that's exactly how it would be. Or you say, well, we're a long way from there, far away from England and far away from that time. You won't run into anything like that over here in America. Oh, will you not? Will you not?

Why have you been walking around with your eyes closed? And some of us actually think we own the pew that we sit in every single Sunday. Some of you would like to have a door on the end of your pew.

In fact, the depth of your depravity is coming out in that, as I describe this situation, you're saying, now, that's the kind of thing that we ought to adopt here at Parkside Church. Well, we may not have seen that, but I think most of us have seen the appointment of leadership in churches, not on account of wisdom, but on account of wealth. You see, money still does the talking far too loudly in Christian circles. Money still talks, and talks very loudly in Christian circles. And where it does, and when it does, the glory of Christ will eventually depart.

It will. The description, the illustration, and then he makes application of it. Verse 5, and I won't take long on this.

Listen, he says, my dear brothers, listen. And then he makes application of his illustration by means of three rhetorical questions. Question number one, he says, Hasn't God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith?

And of course, the answer to that rhetorical question is so clearly yes. Now, we need to think this out, because it would appear extremely likely that James here is taking a leaf again from the teaching style of Jesus his brother. We know from reading our Bibles that what James is saying here is generally true, it is not invariably true. Therefore, he is employing a device, a rhetorical device, a teaching device, and a device that Jesus himself used as his brother. Because when he says, Isn't it the case that God has chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith? The answer is yes and no.

It's yes, generally, but not invariably. Because he chose Abraham, rich. Job, rich. Zacchaeus, rich. Levi, rich. Sergius Paulus, the proconsul, rich. Joseph of Arimathea, rich. So you see what he's doing.

He's pressing and driving home a point by taking one side of it and stating it in a way that makes it so compelling in its impact. Because, as again we saw in 1 Corinthians chapter 1, Paul is able to say, Not many of you were rich. The vast majority of society was poor. There were some who were rich, there was no middle class. And so when a church assembly replicated society, it was inevitable that the preponderance of the assembly would be poor and a few would be rich.

We've all heard the expression money talks. That can be true even in Christian circles, but we're learning how to mute its volume. This is Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. Here at Truth for Life we make it our practice to offer as many free or low-cost resources as possible. Our aim is to provide clear, relevant Bible teaching to everyone who wants to learn more without cost being a barrier. Our prayer is that God will work through this daily teaching, as well as the books we offer, the audio studies, all of it so that unbelievers will come to know Jesus as their Savior and believers will be more deeply established in their faith. Every time you donate to or pray for Truth for Life, know that you're helping listeners all around the globe grow closer to Jesus. One of the ways we grow in our faith is by getting to know God better, and that's at the heart of a book called God Is, a devotional guide to the attributes of God.

Each chapter in this book focuses on a single attribute, so you get an in-depth look at God's nature and learn to delight in Him. Today is the last day we're offering this book, so be sure to request your copy when you give a donation at truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. When you request the book God Is with your donation today, if you'd like to purchase additional copies, you'll find them in our online store. You can use this book in your next group study or include it in your church's welcome package for new members.

Extra copies are available for purchase at our cost of $8 while supplies last. Visit truthforlife.org slash store. I'm Bob Lapine, thanks for joining us today. What constitutes true wealth and what should our response to wealth be? We'll explore the answers to those questions tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-04 01:31:35 / 2023-03-04 01:39:43 / 8

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