God, Diversity, Equity and Love
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 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,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: 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? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
Another example showing that people can bring trials to the lives of others is found here in James. By expressing to people that they are of lesser value than others! James is writing to people who give people less honor because they are poor!
- Favoritism, Prejudice, Injustice and Inequality
I use these terms on purpose because they are used quite a lot in our culture. And I want you to know that they are important issues to God. This passage is all about these sorts of issues and how we can work toward treating others in a positive loving manner. Let’s start by thinking about our differences. They are the basis on which we would treat people differently.
- The reality of our differences
People are different. People are not equal. They never have been and they never will be. In terms of equal outcomes in life, God does not make that happen. Instead God has made us different and adaptable to different situations in our lives that make us even more different. When you think about the importance of adaptability, equality of outcome is not good for life. Instead, we need our differences. I believe this is God’s will. Therefore, the way that we manage our differences is extremely important. We need to be able to understand the need for differences and celebrate them. As long as they are not sinful and destructive.
What makes us different? It’s a long list! Things we cannot control: Sex, body size, baseline health, strength, intelligence, nationality, race, culture and family.
Things where we have some control: life experiences, wounds, the health of our minds, desires we pursue. What we believe about God, the world, ourselves etc.
Differences can cause us to be divided. I might mention a trouble that I have encountered. Your response to that might be to give me advice that works for you. Your advice to me might be good or not: Take this supplement, let’s say. Now, if I don’t follow your advice that works for you and I continue to have the trouble, do you view me differently? Just because something works for you, will it automatically work for me? Am I obligated to do what you do?
Romans 14: Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.
10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister[a]? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Do not treat people who differ from you with contempt.
Do not attack the faith of other people.
Do not judge another man’s servant.
Believe that God is at work in other people’s lives.
Believe that God is at work in your life.
- Do not compete with people who are different
James 3: 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
Do not allow differences to bring out insecurity.
If you are poorer than another person, do not allow that to build a wall between you. It is easy for those who have less to judge how people who have more spend their money. It is easy for people who have more to judge how people who have less spend their money.
If you are richer than another person, do not build a wall!
Work to communicate love and to manage different values!
Ask questions in humility!
Trust God with differences that you see!
- Be humble and learn to celebrate differences
If we are different, there are four possibilities:
- I am right and you are wrong.
- You are right and I am wrong.
- We are both right.
- We are both wrong.
Don’t make assumptions.
Have some humility and consider the other person’s perspective.
Trust God to work in their life! Trust them to God.
Celebrate God’s working in their life.
If you convey that you love people, that you are truly interested in what is best in their life, if you accept them even though they are not perfect, that you are not “better than they are,” Then you will have an opportunity to speak into their life.
But you can’t just throw them out when they don’t do what you say. That is not the way that God is to you!
Let’s talk about the economic divide.
- Poverty and Wealth
James is going to discuss issues here that are not universally true. The rich do not always exploit the poor etc. The poor are not always full of faith. Poor people can be greedy and rich people can be generous and not controlled by their wealth. So, we are not setting general principles. What does James say then about poverty and wealth?
- The trial of poverty
Whose fault is it that we are poor? Have we followed God’s word perfectly? Of course not. It is easy for the rich to look at the poor and blame their poverty on their actions. And long term poverty is a very difficult cycle to break. The deck is stacked against the poor. Lack of education, lack of opportunity, separated from the culture of wealth. Subsistence living. A constant reminder of the differences regardless of how well people treat you. Poverty is a trial. And it does not go away easily. And when we are by ourselves, dealing with health issues, relationship issues, personal addiction issues etc. can be a real problem. The church is to stand in as best we can. We are a broader family. We invest in each other. We need to keep each other from cratering!
The only difference in people’s lives at times is a question of margin. My struggles do not threaten my home. And I have a partner who can carry me.
- The power of wealth
James mentions the power of those who are wealthy to exploit the poor. This is real. It is not God’s way, but it is a natural process for the wealthy to be able to gain more wealth. When your money works for you instead of you working for your money, then you are truly wealthy.
God will hold you responsible for your wealth. To whom much is given, much will be required. Your wealth is not yours, it is God’s. We are called to express God’s mercy toward others. We are called to bear one another’s burdens.
The poor give a larger percentage of their income to charities than the rich!
- Do not be like Job’s friends
Job’s friends assumed that because he had lost his wealth, kids and health that he had hidden sin in his life that God was judging.
Job didn’t assume he was perfect, but he also would not assume bad behavior either because of his difficulties. And we see that God bragged about Job. In other words, you can be the most righteous man on the face of the earth and have incredible trials.
Our calling is to be faithful to God regardless of our economic status. And we will find God in our faithful obedience. It is God Himself who is the pearl of great price and the treasure in the field. Money is a tool, and it can make our lives easier. But it is a tool to glorify God. That is what is for, just like any other of God’s good gifts. It is not God’s will that we hold our income tightly so we don’t need to trust Him. And the rich should not judge the poor for being poor and the poor should not judge the rich for not giving more to them.
I believe the greatest divide we have in our culture is not racial or based on sex. I believe the greatest divide is economic. And in many ways it is growing.
So, how can we manage our differences?
III. Keep the Royal Law
- The highest law toward others is love
Love is acting in the best interests of someone.
Love is understood by the person being loved.
Love is patient, kind, unselfish, seeking the best for another person. Love is not easily offended. Love seeks to understand others!
Whatever else we convey to other people, we are to convince them that we are for them, that we want the best for them, that we love them!
All of us are broken and struggle with personal weaknesses and sin. We are all in the same boat. God has put all people under sin so that He might have mercy on them all. (Romans 11:32 This is a very important point because we struggle with this!)
What do you have that you did not receive?
I Corinthians 4: 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
- The law is all one thing
If you break it in one place, then you are a law breaker. This is meant to drive us to humility, which informs us that we exist purely because of the mercy of God. And because we see God’s mercy, it calls to us to extend His mercy in us to others. In other words, because someone is a law breaker, they are not disqualified from receiving mercy. It actually qualifies them to receive mercy!!!!
- God’s image is in every person
It doesn’t matter what I think about how chaotic a person’s life has become. They are still important to God. Therefore, they are important to me. If we will humbly receive the Word of God implanted in us, it will save our souls. We will be changed from the inside out as we set our thinking and desires on what God wants for us. I am to call you to this, and you are to call me to this!