All of us have attended a gathering to which we have been invited; nonetheless, we felt out of place. Perhaps we didn’t know anyone there really well; for some reason we didn’t feel as welcome as we might.
Those of us who have believed in Jesus Christ as savior love to share the good news of forgiveness and new life through faith in him with others. We love inviting people to meet with those who gather at the church where we worship.
However, are we inviting people with one open arm while keeping them at arm’s distance with the other?
The apostle James, Jesus’ half-brother, took the first-century church to task for this type of behavior. “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” (James 2:1 NIV).
The original word used by James means to look on a person’s face and treat them differently than someone else. Prejudice, partiality, and snobbery all would fit this term.
James illustrates his point, “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?” (James 2:2-4)
Greater net worth has always netted people more favorable treatment, it seems, and that remains true today. Think of other possible criteria by which we might judge someone and push them away from worshiping our Lord with us. Does their political persuasion have to match ours? What about their view of the current pandemic, the efficacy of vaccines, or mask wearing? More contentiously, how about a person’s country of origin, or their immigration status?
James pulls no punches: when we demonstrate partiality, pushing others away from worshiping Jesus in our community because of matters we feel are more important than him, we become judges who are making evil decisions. Ouch.
A pastor colleague was sharing the good news of Jesus with a young person, who then asked him, “If I believe in Jesus, does that mean I have to become a Republican?” The question seems laughable until you think of the partiality, the mixed messages we may be communicating.
We want to share the good news of Jesus with others: God loves them; he sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sins in full by his death in our place on the cross. When we believe in Jesus as the only way to be right with God, we are not only forgiven— we receive a new life now and the strength to live it!
But we, as followers of Jesus, also want to be careful not to inadvertently push people away by placing any secondary issue before faith in him. We want the message clear and people who hear it to be welcomed with both arms wide open.
Don Baumann is outreach pastor at Hilltop Community Church.