No Coach Seats

No Coach Seats on This Flight

Ed Jansen and Trish Gaffney

James 2:1-13

1My sisters and brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. 2Suppose a person comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor one in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the one wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor person, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my dear sisters and 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? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? 8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. 12Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:1-13)

 

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Awhile ago, Trish and I flew to Stuart Florida to visit my sister.  We had a very interesting flight. Trish had shopped around and found that the best fare to PBI was through Southwest Airlines. They have an interesting philosophy that seems to really be working well for them. They have no class separation in their seating. All travelers have the same class of seating and all passengers are treated equally. Now Southwest’s competition will quickly say, “They don’t have any First Class seats.” And Southwest responds to this by saying, “All of our passengers fly First Class. There are no Coach seats on this flight.” Well, today’s message is about “No Coach Seating” because we’re all First Class Passengers in the Kingdom of God.

 

As we continue our study of the Christian How-To Manual in James, we’re going to look at prejudice. You see, the kind of treatment Trish and I received when we flew to Florida may be unique for an airline – but it’s supposed to be standard operating procedure for people in the Kingdom of God. So let’s look at James’ four-part message regarding the principle: There are no coach seats in the Kingdom of God.

 

Principle Stated   Don’t show favoritism (verse 1). 1My sisters and brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. The Greek word for favoritism is “prosopolepsia.”  It comes from two words that literally means, “to receive by face.” It connotes the idea of judging things solely by the externals.  What we’re dealing with here is the way we make judgments, specifically of people, based upon their outward appearances. And James is saying, “Stop it!”

 

Principle Illustrated   The rich and the poor (verses 2-4). 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If 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,” 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

 

James gives us an illustration by asking us to imagine that we’re an usher at a meeting. In walks someone who is dressed in designer clothes, smells good, looks good and has the latest style sunglasses. And another person walks in, kind of homely with dirty old clothes on, they stink and their fingernails have dirt underneath them. James challenges us to think about how we would respond in our hearts and minds and how we would respond outwardly. Would we be overly friendly to the first person? Would we avoid the latter? Stop a moment and put yourself in that setting. I know what my first thoughts would be. I know how I would respond outside of God’s grace in my life. And even with God grace, I still would have to overcome my natural tendency to be nicer to the former person than the latter. Maybe you’re the same.

 

In verse 4 James challenges us to check our motives. What is it that brings about “evil thoughts“?  May I suggest a two-fold answer? First, when we respond favorably to the well dressed or rich person, we might have hopes of some sort of gain, some selfish benefit in treating that person like they’re more special than others. Second, when we look down on anyone, aren’t we are filled with pride and maybe even, contempt? It’s like we step on top of people so that we can stand a little taller ourselves. The mere fact that we place people under us gives us the illusion we are higher than them; and when we do, we do it at their expense.

 

Principle Explained   Three reasons against prejudice (verses 5-11)

1.  Inconsistent with God’s methods (verse 5). 5Listen, my dear sisters and 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?

 

Is James suggesting that God opposes the rich? I don’t think so. Then what’s the point of the illustration? Throughout scripture God continually commanded his people to be holy as he is holy. So how is God holy? How does God look at people? “For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b ) God wants us to look at the person’s heart.

 

2.  It ignores the universality of sin (verses 6-7). 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

Chuck Swindoll says, “Besides the fact that it was ludicrous to exalt the very people who persecuted them, James reminds his readers that by catering to the rich, they were denying that the wealthy are sinners and need the grace of God like all the rest.”  An old country preacher used to say to me, “Ed, there ain’t a nickel’s difference between the best of us and the worst of us. We’re all cut out of the same cookie dough.” Outside of the love of God and his saving grace in our lives, I suggest that there’s not a choice between us.  Every single one of us here on earth struggles with our own self-centered, sinful humanity. We are indeed, all cut out of the same cookie dough.

 

3.  It’s inconsistent with Scripture (verses 8-9). 8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

When God spoke to Moses in Leviticus 19:18b he said, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” Jesus affirmed this in the Gospels by stating that loving God and your neighbor as yourself were the two most important Commandments. He even went as far as to say that all of scripture rests upon these two commandments of love. Would we ever be prejudice if we loved everyone as we love ourselves?

 

Principle Applied (verses 12-13)   Three applications:

1.  The Scriptures are our standard (verse 12). 12Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom.

There is no place for prejudice in the life of a Christian. It’s inconsistent with scripture. It’s inconsistent with what we profess to believe. If there is any prejudice in the life of a Christian, the outside world sees it for what it truly is: Hypocrisy. It must be removed from our very being like a surgeon removes a deadly cancer from our bodies.

2.  Love is our law that gives freedom Those who are most ready to receive the Gospel may be those who are the most unloved in our culture. People cannot and will not receive the Gospel until they know they too are loved. I want to repeat that; it’s so important: People cannot and will not receive the Gospel until they know they too are loved. Our ministry at the Center is based upon this premise: “We reach out to people in love, meeting them first at their point of need, in order to help them later rise above their life circumstances.”

3. Mercy must be our message (verse 13) 13because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

God’s principle of reaping what we sow applies here.  As we are merciful to others, God will be merciful to us. Mercy triumphs over judgment reminds me of what Mom always told me growing up: “Eddie, you win more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

 

So here’s the challenge for us today: We need to stop putting people into two categories: Special People and Not-So-Special People. My human nature tends to gravitate toward special people, or those who are attractive, or the important/influential ones, or even when they’re easy to speak to . . . when they can help me in some way or make me look or feel good.  And there’s also something in my human nature that sometimes wants to do as little as possible for not-so-special-people. And in my fallen nature I even want to do less for people who will drain my resources of time, treasures or talents.  In the work we do at the Center, we often meet people who feel judged, ignored, passed over and rejected. They often feel unheard, unnoticed, and not cared for. But those are the very people Jesus seemed the most drawn to. And as we read the Gospels, we get the distinct sense that every person Jesus was with, felt very important when they were with Him. I once did a sermon series on “I feel best about myself when I’m with you.” I think that’s James’ message to the church today. It’s a message of unconditional love. It’s a message of love which goes deeper than the surface. It’s a message of love without prejudice.

 

Wouldn’t this be a wonderful epitaph?

Let’s examine our hearts and see if there is any prejudice in us. If we find our lives do not reflect the love of Christ for all people we can change by an act of our will with God’s help. This week, make sure there’s only one section for all the passengers in your life – First-Class seats only – because there are no coach seating in the Kingdom of God.

 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you…… By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

 

Love in Christ,

Ed and Trish

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2 Responses to No Coach Seats

  1. Barbara says:

    I thought about this for a long time….Thinking about how I treat people. If I treat some that come in different than others. I try very hard to be open and loving to everyone who comes into the center. When I know that someone is there to donate, or give us something I may be ….a bit more enthusiastic about it. That makes them feel special and want to come back. If someone comes in that I know is going to be troublesome I pray very hard before I approach them that I will be able to talk to them in a loving manner so as not make them feel pointed out.
    Of course only Jesus was able to be perfectly good with these things. We can only try to be loving, and fair to everyone, and then pray for forgiveness and guidance when fail.

    • Barb,

      What else can we do but do the best we can and when we fail, own it, try harder the next time. THAT is the picture of growth, of becoming a better human being. None of us will ever do it perfectly, but we can get better; I see that in you, daily.

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