Let us pray: Dear Savior, once more today we ask You to show us our prideful, selfish side and then to take it away! Enable us to recognize and then renounce our “Me-istice” attitude. Show us that it really has no place at all in Your church. And then fill us anew with kindly love which shows itself toward our fellow Christians and fellow humans in all we think, say, and do. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GOD OF REAL LOVE
TEXT: James 2: 1-5, 8-10, 14-18
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Every single one of us has experienced another person asking for a favor. Likewise, every single one of us has either thought, or verbalized, this response to them: “What’s in it for me?” My friends, when you think about it, such a response is really anti-Christian. It goes directly opposite the whole concept of grace, or God’s unconditional love for us in Christ. When you find yourself operating on a “What’s in it for me?” basis, where is genuine love? That’s right, it’s not there, is it? I dare say, of this, every one of us needs to examine our hearts and repent.
A cursory reading of this lesson reveals that St. James is taking on the idea of favoritism in God’s holy family, the Church. The whole concept of playing favorites is ultimately driven by pride, by a “What’s in it for me?” attitude. And so, this morning, let’s delve deeper in the text by pondering how faith-destroying, how love-destroying, that simple question:
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
The epistle of James is often called: the practical epistle. James deals with the nuts and bolts of daily faith. And so, he begins by focusing on this idea of playing favorites in the church. “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a golden ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 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,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
James’ point is obvious. Most people are awed by money and power. It helps make us feel important to hob-nob with the rich and famous. Thus, they naturally get special treatment. Likewise, we often judge by externals—clothes, car, how people speak and how they carry themselves. Most of you would rather sit by a nicely dressed, freshly showered and groomed person than by someone who came in their lawn-mowing clothes and looked the part! Yes, we often judge another by outward appearances, while God looks into their hearts.
When I was sitting at Logan Airport waiting for my flight into Minneapolis a week or so ago, I was thinking about this very issue. I looked around and thought: “I hope that person, or that person, or that person over there doesn’t sit next to me.” But then, the truth of this lesson became more clear.—I need to practice love in my heart towards everybody because God doesn’t play favorites. Jesus came and died on the cross for all of us. And whether or not they believe in Him, he still extends His love to them, so I should do likewise.
In talking to people over the years, I’ve seen some Christians play favorites in an opposite manner than the obvious one James speaks of. That is, sometimes believers of modest means and modest income look down their noses at anyone who dresses well and smacks of anything to do with wealth. I suppose it comes from the “comfort zone” syndrome in which we naturally feel more comfortable with those who appear just like us. I’ve seen it in how believers ignore certain new people in the hall after church. They sit in their own comfortable sphere of friends and don’t really care about anyone who’s different than they are. But, isn’t that showing favoritism, too? Isn’t that behavior just as antithetical to love as cozying up to the rich or famous who might come through the church doors and ignoring anyone else?
“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? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking it all.”
Let’s go back to our thematic question: “What’s in it for me?” Isn’t that question directly opposite of loving your neighbor as yourself? It should not matter whether someone is rich, poor, young, old, famous or non-descript. It shouldn’t matter whether they can do anything for you, or not. God commands us to love them, period. He expects us to act kindly to them and to extend ourselves for them—whether they feed our ego or not. Why? Because this is true love. This is the love God has extended and still extends to us today in Christ. And when we fail to do so, and that happens every day, we’re condemned and need to flee to Christ’s wounds in repentance.
After giving us another object lesson about pious words vs. faith-filled deeds, James sums it all up by saying: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
As I stated in the beginning of this sermon, such an attitude, a What’s in it for me? Attitude is antithetical to the Christian faith because it is the direct opposite of love in action. And never forget, love in action is what Christ stood for and stands for today. Love in action by Him means salvation for us.
One final thought. Throughout our lives, all of us lapse into our own little comfort zone. It feels safe and homey. But whenever someone or something comes along to challenge us to step outside that zone and thereby to enlarge it and make us grow, we often react negatively. We often say, or think, “What’s in it for me?” Next time you do that, kick yourself! And then ask yourself this: “Is God using this person, or this situation, as a means for me to grow even more in my faith? Is He using them to challenge me to show forth kindness and love all the more? So, look past externals by getting to know the person involved, getting to know their motivation, getting to know their heart. And when you do, true humbleness, true love, and true unselfishness will banish that rather sorted question: “What’s in it for me?” After all, don’t all Christians live under the motto: “The Love of Christ motivates us?” Amen