I’m thankful to be a part of a church where the pastor has the courage and the faith to provoke his congregation to love. He not only teaches through the words of his sermons, but through his attitude, humility, and compassion. We have been studying the book of James over the last month or so, and this past week’s sermon dealt with James 2:1-13, which says:
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 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. 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?
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? 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? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
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 all of it. 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.
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Although in the context of the people James was writing to the issue was accepting a rich person with favoritism, Pastor Bill contextualized it for us by flipping it around. (I think, in part, because we, unlike the early church, are rich.) We are likely to have prejudices towards certain types of people, whether they be different ethnically, racially, economically, sexuality, theologically, or even in gender. He spent some time explaining Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink which in part discusses about our prejudices toward blacks and whites. We have prejudices than unintentionally creep up into our perceptions of people. They affect how we treat people, how we act around people, and how we think.
He gave examples of some of the prejudices he’s had to confront in his own life. He was very honest. The way he discussed his prejudices was appropriate and helpful. (And in my opinion, that’s a hard thing to do.) He talked about how he regretted that a woman answered the phone at a car mechanics because he didn’t think that a woman would know as much about car repair as a man would. He mentioned how when he hears a person with a southern accent, he for some reason assumes that they are not as intelligent as a person with a northern accent. He explained his discomfort when he first moved into Andersonville and mingled with the sizable LGBTQ community that exists there.
He’s had to confront himself about these. And he challenged us to do the same. In the church setting he explained that we shouldn’t give preferential treatment to people we agree with or have prejudice towards those we are not like. He gave the example of how charismatics and non-charismatics react toward each other. He mentioned how people feel toward those in the LGBTQ community. And it was here that I felt he was being bold, knowing that people may feel uncomfortable or that he is caving to the culture by saying that we should not judge those in the LGBTQ community, but love them.
He talked about how the church’s stance on traditional marriage hasn’t changed, but that doesn’t affect our ability to love others. He talked about what it was like to go to gay parties for the first time after moving into Andersonville. It was uncomfortable for him at first, but then he realized that these people are people. They are made in the image of God just the same as any other person. They have the same fears, issues, and goals as we all do. And then he said something that shouldn’t be ground-shaking or incredibly insightful, but in the current evangelical culture we just don’t hear it like we should.
We don’t have to agree with people to love them.
To love others doesn’t mean we agree with everything they do, believe, say, or think. But in a Christian culture that splits and splinters over minor theological and even non-theological differences, the statement is truly counter-cultural. And yes, that’s very sobering. But growing up with a father who was quick to judge others and after spending four years submersed in the Independent, Fundamentalist, KJV-only, Baptist crowd in Pensacola, Florida this was so refreshing that I found myself overcome with emotion during the service. Tears welled up.
It just shouldn’t be a profound statement within the church to say that the fact that someone is not like us shouldn’t change the fact that we should love them with the love of Jesus Christ. But right now, here in 2014 – it is.
So he challenged us to look in ourselves. What prejudices do we have — even unintentionally? We must learn to confront those prejudices and overcome them by loving all people. If we are blind to our own prejudices, then we should make an intentional effort to love all people well. We must determine to love others better.
If we judge people, James explains that we can expect to be judged in the same manner that we judge others. Mercy is better than judgment. I believe it is better to be quick to love others and give mercy than it is to judge others. As I have said before, it is better to err in love than it is to err in haste judgement. We should love others the way we want God to love us.
Jesus was pretty clear about this as well in His “Sermon on the Mount.” In the Lord’s prayer, something many people have memorized, there is this statement:
“And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
That’s a dangerous thing to pray to God for someone who is not very forgiving.
Jesus also says this later in his sermon:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
It seems pretty clear. James says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Our daily challenge to ourselves should be to be loving others better, resisting judgment. The judgments that we should be making are those of our own hearts. That’s a hard thing to do, though. It’s a scary thing to do. It’s a lot easier to just compare ourselves to others or to judge others whom we deem as worse than ourselves. We should pray that very vulnerable and dangerous prayer that David prayed to God in Psalm 139:
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
And then we should ask for the mercy we need as David did in Psalm 51:
“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.”
To do this requires vulnerability before God, it requires us to be honest with ourselves, and both of vulnerability and honesty require humility. Pride is what leads us to judge, to be unforgiving, to not have mercy. We can’t be prideful and truly love well. So maybe we should start by praying for the ability to humble ourselves before others and before God.