When you’re a small church like us, favouritism, cliques and showing partiality towards people become the biggest thing in the room – and they don’t belong. When you read the scene before you from James 2:1-3 (which we saw on Sunday in our series from James), it seems as if James himself has seen a real-life scenario.
On any given Sunday gathering of a church, it’s possible to see such a sad state of social affairs play out. A well-off person comes in, and we are tempted to pay attention to them. A poor person comes in the room, and we are tempted to push them away. James, the preacher who writes his piece in his letter to churches like us, James says it how it is: that when we act like this we have become judges with evil thoughts (James 2:4)
Why is this so particular and important for us to hear as a small church? After all, large churches can have favouritism, cliques and partiality – it’s just that it’s hidden by size. In a large church the sheer number of people in the room can blind us to the sinful presence of partiality. But in a small church, it stands out in the small crowd – and sadly so do the lonely.
A small church with partiality has the problem that it’s the biggest thing in the room. Oh, we might not say “you stand over there” (at least not out loud), it’s just that we won’t stand over there with you.
So why do we do speak and act like this? Why do we show partiality toward people? It’s because ultimately we are unlike God, un-God-like, ungodly. Sin shows it’s ugliness when we treat people at face value. Whereas God works in the opposite way.
Just look at the way God works and sit in wonder for a moment – that’s what James says to do (James 2:5). God is the one who chooses to love people, even as un-lovely as we are. God has chosen the poor of the world, to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom. To those who love God, promises abound with abundance forever where the welcome is never worn out – no matter what we’re like when we meet God for the first time. This is the gracious choosing God, who chooses the weak, poor, the unliked of the world – and loves them.
You see this, when you show partiality toward people based upon outward appearances, what then stands out in that moment in that room is that you’ve forgotten that God chose to save you, by grace. God didn’t choose you because you impressed him. God didn’t choose you because you’re lovely. God chose you because he loved you – and he has always been in the business of doing things this way (Deuteronomy 7:7).
It is Jesus who tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, to answer that question we could ask like the lawyer did, to wriggle out of all this. But Jesus then and there on the spot shows how our question is the wrong one. It’s not “who is my neighbour?”, but ought to be “how can I be a neighbour to others?” Jesus shows us there in that parable, and here in his word from James 2:1-13, that to be like God is to be like the man Jesus. For It is Jesus who doesn’t just tell that parable, he doesn’t just tell us to show no partially from James, but Jesus is the ultimate loving neighbour himself.
Jesus didn’t just walk across the room to stand with us, he went across the universe and his love took him to the cross. May we believe in Jesus and be more like him – and may he become the biggest thing in the room.