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Jack Graham - Church: Where Everybody is Somebody


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    Jack Graham - Church: Where Everybody is Somebody
TOPICS: LifeWorks, Church

I want to invite you to take God's word and turn to the Second Chapter of James. We're going to begin reading in Verse 1 through the 10th Verse. James is talking about real religion. Real religion. That is life in Christ. A genuine faith in Christ. When you hear the word religion what do you think? You might think of words like ritual, ritualistic, religiosity. You may think of words like rules and restrictions, but when James talks about real religion at the close of Chapter 1, and remember there were no chapters or verse numbers when this passage was written, The Letter of James, but it just all flows together.

As he talks about real religion, true religion as compared to false religion, religion, in a good sense is the outward expression of the inward experience because religion works as life works. Real religion, someone said the Book of James is religion in shoe leather. It's about beliefs that affect our behaviors. D.L. Moody, the famed evangelist of the 19th century, once said that the Bible should be bound in shoe leather. That's descriptive because it's about walking the walk as well as talking the talk. Real religion includes, as we saw at the end of Chapter 1 last week, a controlled tongue. We manage our mouths. A compassionate heart. We care for the widows and orphans, those most vulnerable in our society, and we live a consecrated life, so a controlled tongue, a compassionate heart, a consecrated life un-spotted from the world.

With that we take up our reading in Chapter 2 Verse 1. "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' while you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there or sit down at my feet,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges," watch this, "with evil thoughts? Listen my beloved brothers. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love Him, but you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which we are called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, you shall love your neighbor as yourself and you are doing well, but if you show partiality, favoritism, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors, for whoever keeps the whole law, but fails in one point has been accountable for all of it".

The religion of our Lord Jesus Christ changes lives. Someone said, "If you religion hasn't changed your life, you need to change your religion". We don't preach religion; we preach Jesus Christ. Christ, the reality of Christ living us changes the way we practice our faith. This passage tells us what true religion is compared to false, futile, worthless religion does and does not do. When we walk with Jesus we will walk in love and welcome people, and treat people right. Every one. I'm calling this message church: where everybody is somebody and Jesus is Lord. Where everybody is somebody and Jesus Christ is Lord. How do you treat people? Especially people who are different than you? Especially people you don't know very well?

James talks to us about the danger of discrimination, the peril of prejudice, the sin of snobbery. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not a snooty religious country club. It is a place where everyone is welcome. The scripture says, in 1 Samuel 16:7, that God doesn't look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. Jesus never showed partiality. He welcomed everyone from the smallest child to the outcast to the up and outs, the down and outs. He was not impressed with social or cultural or racial or even religious standing. God cares absolutely nothing about any of that. What people look like, or their professions, or their success, or lack of success, their standing in life or the strata of life.

God is no respecter of persons according to 2 Chronicles 19. God is not a sinner. There is no iniquity in Him. There is no respecting of persons with God. We put people in various categories and classes don't we? It comes natural to us. We categorize people in terms of affluence or lack of affluence, age, appearance, accomplishment, all these categories. There are no categories with God, well, there is one category really, saved or lost. Those who know Jesus and those who don't know Jesus, but God doesn't look on the exterior. God doesn't play favorites. God doesn't look at the skin. He looks at the heart. Therefore, faith and favoritism are not compatible in the Christian life. God is impartial and therefore, those who know God and follow Jesus are also to become impartial.

It is a lifelong struggle for all of us, but remember the goal in the Book of James is becoming mature in Christ. Becoming more like Jesus. I know this, everyone is loved and leveled at the cross. Everyone is loved and leveled at the cross. The gospel of Jesus Christ which is the gospel that God so loved the world, everyone in it, that he gave his only son. Jesus bled and died for all and he rose again on the third day. The gospel is the great equalizer. We're all leveled and loved at the cross. We're all sinners who need a savior and when we come to Jesus our lives are changed. The gospel is for all. It's not the American gospel, or the European gospel, or the African gospel, or the Asian gospel. It's the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It's for anyone and everyone. It's amazing grace for every race.

We're told to go into all the world and preach the gospel of Christ. Real religion loves without limits. It loves without liables and it loves without labels. We are called to go outside our own comfort zone and to welcome all into the family of God. We're to welcome the stranger, to receive the sinner as Jesus did, those who are outsiders, those who are outcasts, we're to love all, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, cultured or crude. No one is to be excluded from Christ and therefore, no one is to be excluded from the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Everybody is somebody in His body.

Now, with that principle in place, James gives us a story. This evidently was a problem in the first century church as well as the twenty-first century church and everything in between. James tells us about two guys who go to church. First guy goes to church, guy walks into a church, not into a bar, into a church. Guy walks into a church and it is obvious that this guy's got it going on in his life. He's dressed like he just walked out of GQ. His clothing is fine. Literally is shining. It's shimmering. He lights the place up. Beautiful and brilliant and he's wearing gold rings. Literally, he's gold fingered.

This is Mr. Goldfinger. He's got rings on his finger, bling on his neck, and it's obvious that he's got money. He's got self-worth and net worth. He's a billionaire. When he walks in the usher takes notice of Mr. Goldfinger and says, "Oh, sir. Come on in. I've got just the seat for you". He takes Goldfinger and brings him down to the best sear in the house. Now, I like good seats, don't you? I mean, if somebody is going to give me tickets to something, I get to the event and it's a really good seat, I like that a lot. We all like good seats. Not a problem with the good seats. He gets the good seat right down front and center because the usher, of course, is thinking, "This person is important. He's a VIP. We're taking care of this guy because he just might do something for the church".

Then another guy walks in the church. This guy is right off the streets. He's not dressed in fine clothing. He's dressed in rags; in fact, he's shabby. He's maybe even homeless. Financially this guy's got nothing working for him. He has no net worth. He's told, "Go stand over there. Go sit over there on the floor". Now, no problem in welcoming the rich man. That's not the issue. Maybe the rich man was a lost man who needed Jesus for all we know. No problem sitting the wealthy man on the front row, the best seat in the house. That's not the problem. Everyone is welcome, remember? Rich and poor. The problem is on how the poor man was treated in comparison to the rich man because while the rich man was viewed as worthy of the best seat in the house, the poor man was seen as unworthy of any seat in the house. He had no clout so he was out. "Sit over there. Stand over there".

The rich man was a somebody. The poor man was a nobody in the eyes of the world. Therein lies the problem. The Bible calls this here favoritism. There's a word that also means snobbishness. It's a elitism. The Bible says that snobbishness is sinfulness. This is not just a social problem. This is a spiritual problem. Discrimination and prejudice is more than preference. We all have preferences, things we like, things we don't like. That's normal. That's life. Sometimes our preferences can turn into prejudices. That's when it becomes sin in our lives. Partiality, playing favorites, looking on the outside of a person and judging them instead of seeing the person's heart as God would see them.

This is more than just a preference. It is, in the site of God, vicious sin, akin to murder and thievery because the same passage compares partiality or prejudice in the same sentence as murder and stealing, so we can't say, "Well, it's just my little thing. My little sin. That's the way I was raised. You know I came up in the 50s or 60s. That's just the way I am". No, if you are in Christ you are a new creation. You don't see things, you don't see people the way you used to see people. Verse 4, that we read earlier, says, "When you treat people like this, when you discriminate against people based on their external appearance, things they can't even change if they tried, are you not," look at Verse 4, "are you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts, vicious thoughts? That among yourselves"...

Notice this is the sin of the church. You would expect this kind of behavior in the world, right? But not in the church. It's been said that prejudice in all its forms is ignorance. True. Prejudice is arrogance, but it is more than ignorance, and it is more than arrogance, it is vicious sin, evil sin in the heart of an individual. We should know better. James, then, asks us a question in Verses 5 and 6. Look at it again. Verse 5 he says, "Listen my beloved brothers". Now, lest you think James is about to hammer us for the sinfulness of this sin and this kind of behavior, he says, "Now, listen beloved brothers". James is a pastor and he's counseling us. Brothers and sisters, listen to this. Pay attention to this. "Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom"?

Think about this, God loves and receives all who come to Him in faith and in particular, God has an affection for people who are poor. We see it all thought the Bible that God loves the poor and that we as believers shall also love and minister to the poor. Jesus hung out with the despised, the disregarded, the diseased, the disrespected. He often did His greatest work among the poor, the common people who heard Him gladly, the outcast. God uses the poverty of the poor to give them the richness of faith because when you recognize your desperation and your poverty, you're a candidate for God to do something great in your life, to minister his health and hope in your life. The richness of His love towards you, but if you're flying high, if you're rolling, we tend to get self-dependent rather than God dependent.

We see this in our own lives. Maybe you started out like Deb and I did as college students getting married. We didn't have hardly anything. We had a nice little place to live in student housing and had a little money that we made each month, but we were getting along just fine and maybe you're like that. You started out slow and you were poor, but you were rich in faith. You were rich in faith. You're showing up and worshiping every Lord's day. You're serving the Lord some way. You don't have much, but God's got all of you. You've given your life to Him. You're tithing your income. It's not much. A dime out of a dollar doesn't seem like much until it becomes a thousand out of a ten thousand and ten thousand out of a hundred thousand, right? Somehow that all seems different.

When we're just getting started there weren't a lot of distractions, and then, along came our jobs and our careers and with it the money, maybe the success comes in, but with that, with the success comes stress, and then the need to make more money. Before you know it you're drifting spiritually. You started out poor in wealth and rich in faith, but now you're poor in faith and rich in money. You're price tags change. You have money to make, things to do. Your priorities have changed. I dare say for a lot of us, there was a time in our lives when we had less, but God had more of us. That's the point that James is making, that when you're poor, you're rich in faith. He goes on to say that isn't it the rich that are oppressing the poor. Then, why would you honor the rich and dishonor the poor? It can happen to all of us. I've had to repent many times before I preached this message.

Attitudes and actions, because you see we start valuing the wrong things in life and we start thinking that our self-worth is all wrapped up in our net worth, but it's not. Every man, every woman, is of infinite worth and value to God and should be welcomed among Christians and in the Christian church. Back to our story, rich man, poor man, the problem of prejudice is when we indulge the wealthy and are indifferent to the poor. That's the message. When we indulge the wealthy and ignore or are indifferent to the poor, this is anti-Christian behavior. It is. We're okay loving our neighbors as long as we can pick our neighborhood.

Nothing wrong with living in a nice neighborhood; no problem with that. Just as we said, it wasn't the man's wealth that was the problem. It was the way he was treated as compared to the poor man. It's no problem living in a nice neighborhood if God blesses you in the burbs. The problem is when you close yourself off to people, either in your neighborhood or out of your neighborhood, and no longer see needs all around you. Anyone you find along your life's road, who need you, is your neighbor. Therefore, we as the church of Jesus Christ, those who love and follow Christ, we are to welcome all and to reach out beyond ourselves and our own friends and our own click.

Remember, the church is not a club where religious snobs get together and tell each other how wonderful we are. We are the church designed not just for us, but those who are not yet with us. I wonder how many people, not like this poor man, at least he walked into church, at least he came into church that day, I wonder how many people would never walk into church because in their heart of hearts they think, "I would never be accepted there. I would never be welcomed there. I don't fit in there. Nobody cares for me there". How many? What is the solution to the sin of discrimination? It's the struggle for all of us at some level. The answer is the love of Jesus Christ.

Verse 8 James speaks of the royal law of God. The royal law. The chief law. The king of all laws. What is it? To love your neighbor as yourself. The full statement of this great commandment given by our Lord, in summation of all the law of God, is to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, your mind, your soul, your strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Love people. Tell people about Jesus because when you do you open up your heart and your life and your world to make a difference in somebody else's life.
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