James 2:2-4 KJV
2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;
3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:
4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
The future pastor of a very large Church arrived the morning that he was supposed to be introduced to the congregation dressed as a homeless man. He was unshaven, his hair was unkempt, his clothes were worn and tattered and he had made sure to carry some of the smell that a homeless man would. As he walked around looking for a seat only a few people out of 3000 that were there greeted him. Most look at him with contempt.
He went to take a seat in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers to please move to the back. No one paid much attention to him as he moved towards the back seat. When the announcement came that the new pastor was present and he was called to the front of the church the apparent homeless man stood up and walked towards the front of the church. When he got there he spoke these words of Jesus from Matt 25
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
How would we act if such a man walked into our congregation? I pray that most of us would treat him just like any other person, equally as important, equally as loved and equally as special to God. If a rich man came in I’d be tempted to sit them side-by-side because they are equal in every single way except the way the world looks at them. Unfortunately the world looks at them differently and even worse, many churches look at them differently as well.
Worldly churches would look at the rich man and think that this could mean more money for the church. Let’s treat him special. Let’s give him the royal treatment and make sure he feels welcome. Then he will come back and put his offering in the offering plate and help us to survive in this world where offerings are getting less and less. Let’s treat him right because he looks like he has talents. Obviously he’s dressed well. He must have talents that he can share with us. Maybe he’s a singer or preacher – he looks good enough to be one of those things. We need some more deacons – maybe he’d make a good deacon. Maybe he can teach Sunday school, or lead a men’s group that we need to start. These are all things that go through our minds when we see somebody dressed up really nice come into our church for the first time, I do it too, so I know! This man would be given great treatment.
But if an apparent homeless man came in and was not dressed the way we like to see people dressed and did not smell the way we like people to smell and did not appear the way we like people to appear, would we give him the same special treatment? I mean obviously he’s not going to be able to contribute much to the church unless he gets his act together so he might make some money and start to tithe. Maybe he could sing, but he’d have to clean up first before we’d let him come up on the platform. He obviously can’t teach Sunday school or lead a men’s group!
This is a sad commentary on your church or my church if we would think these things James says we are judging with evil thoughts – the evil being that one person is better than the other. The evil thought that we’re only concerned with their wealth contributing to our congregation. The evil thoughts of esteeming one higher than the other. Those are evil thoughts thoughts that we must get rid of – that we should never have in the first place!
Who is to say that the homeless man can’t contribute more than the rich man! He might not be able to contribute monetarily but maybe he can give his time to the church. Maybe he’s an excellent all-around contractor who can do any kind of work. Or maybe he’s a rock-solid prayer warrior. All of our churches need more of that
The key here is that we need to give everybody an equal chance at becoming a part of our church and our congregation. There are no exceptions. As people learn our ways and how the church operates, we can better fit them into our community. As we get to know how they are gifted (and we all have gifts from God) I believe that God has a place for everybody.
I know that I am guilty quite often of judging by what I see or what I hear. I know that this is an area I have been asking God to help me with. If you are really honest with yourself, do you do the same? Is everyone equal in your eyes when you pass them on the street. More on this next time.