Broadcast

Phase 1: Social Distinction

From the series Social Restoration

In this first message, Ryan Ingram uncovers the trap of playing favorites. We see it in families, in communities, in politics, and in churches. The problem is that it destroys relationships and is absolutely counter to what the Apostle Paul wrote when he said - In Christ, there is no distinction. James wrote about it too, when he counseled us to - Stop playing favorites! Social restoration begins when followers of Jesus embrace his teaching that there are no social distinctions.

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Message Transcript

We are kicking off a brand-new series called social restoration. We want to take this opportunity to press the reset button and go, okay, this is what it looks like to be a Christ-centered, gospel community. And so, how do we experience social restoration? And as you already recognize, that question has so much more weight today.

And the question is: how do we have, experience social restoration in a country that is experiencing social unrest?

Well, James, the brother of Jesus, he was pastoring. In fact, an incredibly unjust death had happened to the Church, it was the stoning of Stephen, where he was stoned to death. And a persecution broke out on the Church. And so, this church in Jerusalem, these people were scattered from their homes and then they are trying to figure out how to do life, how to engage back in to what does it look like to be a follower of Jesus when your world is turned upside down and you’re dispersed and displaced from your norms and your society and your relationships and your family?

And so, he begins in chapter 2, talking about this social restoration and we are actually going to look at four phases. Four phases for social restoration. Social distinction, that’s what we’re talking about today.

Social distinction. See, James is going to say, if you want to experience social restoration, there needs to be a social distinction that marks the community of Jesus.

There needs to be a clear distinction that’s set aside, set apart the community and the followers of Jesus. And so, we are going to pick up what James says in his letter, James, chapter 2, verse 1. If you’ve got your Bibles, would you open up to them?

He begins this way, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, must not show favoritism.” My brothers and sisters! Believers! Followers of Jesus! People who have committed their lives to Jesus who say, “Your way, Jesus, not my way. Your calling to lay down Your life, take up your cross and follow Him.” Believers. You must not show favoritism.

First thing James is going to tell us is there is a social distinction for followers of Jesus. Like, the social distinction of a Christian is there is to be no social distinction. Now, I love how James opens this up. He says it this way, “Brothers and sisters.” And if you’re reading the book of James, you’ll note that he uses that many times. In fact, fourteen times. It’s like, “Brothers and sisters,” and in this context, I just can see James trying to remind his people that you’re brothers! You’re sisters! You’re family! You love each other.

It reminds me of when my boys, especially, are in the backyard and most of the time, it’s great. But every once in a while, they’re wrestling and something happens and all of a sudden it gets really, really heated or and I have to go back there every once in a while and just go, “Hey, guys, cool it! You’re brothers! You love each other. Come on! We’re family. And family sticks together and family takes care of one another.”

This is what James is saying. He says, “Believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Like, that’s what is most important about us, distinguishing us. And then he says this, “Must not show favoritism.”

In fact, the construction in the Greek there is it’s assumed that this is already happening, that this is going on right now. In fact, it’s a command that’s saying, “Stop what you’re doing.” There’s an activity going on, and you need to halt it right now.

And so the command is simply this: stop playing favorites. The church in Jerusalem that’s spread out, all of a sudden, they are beginning to show favoritism or partiality or preference to certain people, which means you’re not showing favor, not showing partiality, not showing kindness to other types of people.

The social distinction of a Christ-centered community is that there is to be no social distinction. I’m not going to play favorites for you. I’m not going to make you higher than anyone else.

In fact, it’s interesting, William Barclay, a theologian, writes this, “The Church was the only place in the ancient world where social distinction did not exist.” There was this society built on classes, a society built on your social dignity and distinction, and you’ve got to imagine how incredibly weird this must have been as a new community formed and you would have a master and a slave sitting next to each other as equals.

Or, better yet, what often happened, because early Christianity was a religion of the poor, not of the elites. It was a religion that spread among those who didn’t have much and who were mistreated and who were misfits.

And you would have a slave leading the church gathering and you’d have a master sitting under his leadership. And you had this incredible new reality of how we are to relate to one another. And he says, “Stop playing favorites.”

Well, what is favoritism? The Greek and English lexicon of the New Testament, so if you wanted to go look this up, you could, define favoritism this way, “To make unjust distinctions between people by treating one person better than another.” “To make an unjust distinction between people by treating one person better than the other.”

And the underbelly of favoritism is prejudice. I make a pre-judgment about who you are. Favoritism, I’m going to play favorites because you’re wealthy. I’m going to – because I can get something from you. I’m going to play favoritism because you’re influential. Maybe you’re an influencer on Instagram or something like that and you’re like, “Man, I want to rub up and get next to those type of people.” I’m going to play favoritism because you have some sort of power or influence or maybe you have a position that you hold.

Which then means that those who don’t hold that or who become in any way less than that, we treat less than. And he says, “Stop playing favorites.”

We do this in the Church, spiritually. We play favorites with who is our favorite pastor. Stop playing favorites. With what’s our favorite church denomination? Stop playing favorites. We do this socially. Whether it’s rich, poor, black, white, whatever it is. Stop playing favorites. We do this politically. Stop playing favorites.

And we’re going to talk about this in a minute, but you can disagree with someone and still honor and love them. And politically, what we do is we take our partisan side and anchor that and play favorites and push down and malign those who are on the opposite side. He says, “Stop playing favorites.”

Well, what does favoritism or partiality look like? James is then going to go and share an illustration and it’s out of their own context. He’s just ripping it out. And he says, “Suppose a rich person shows up to your gathering.”

And he says: suppose someone pulled up in a Ferrari and they’re like, pull up, they step out, and obviously this red Ferrari, because the kind of Ferrari you have to get if you’re going to get a Ferrari.

And he pulls up and he, eye catching, everyone is like, “Whoa, look at this guy.” Steps out, has got designer jeans, the coolest shirt, he’s wearing the gold-rimmed glasses, perfect hair, perfect smile, and you’re just like, “Wow! Look at him!”

And everybody is kind of looking at him like, Oh, I want to get around him. I mean, he’s got money, he’s got a plan. Maybe he’s an important person. And then he says, “Suppose a poor person comes in.”

In our context, maybe it’s a homeless person. And he says, “If you take that wealthy person and you put them in a seat of honor and then you say to the poor person, “You know what? You can stand in the back,” the homeless guy, “you know what? You can sit over here. We don’t really have a seat over here. How about you stand outside? You’re kind of smelly.”

He makes this interesting comment. Notice what James says about when we do that. He says, “Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges?” Remember that pre-judging, prejudice? “Have become judges with evil thoughts.”

See, favoritism is so prevalent in our culture, and we all are guilty of it, that we have become blind to it. It happens in the Church is what James is saying. And he says it should not happen. The distinctive mark of a follower of Jesus of the Church and the bride of Christ is that there is to be no social distinction.

So, let’s unpack this. What does favoritism, partiality really look like? First, it looks like exactly what James is saying: treating certain people as more valuable than other people. It looks like treating someone else that they are more valuable, more worth your time, worth your energy, worth your thoughts than other people.

And the inverse then is true as well. That if you treat other people as more valuable, then you’re going to treat certain people as less valuable than you. It’s interesting, I love this quote, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says this, “The supreme religious challenge is to see God’s image in one who is not in our image.”

See, how I treat you is a reflection of me and how valuable I believe you to be. And God is going, “Wait a second. Every single person on the planet, rich or poor, black or white, Republican or Democrat, is an image-bearer of the God most high and valuable.

See, favoritism plays out when I treat certain people as more valuable than other people. When I treat wealthy people as more valuable, when I treat beautiful people, when I treat influencers, when I treat those important position as more valuable than other people.

It looks like when I look down on those with whom I disagree. When I’m looking down and what happens when we look down, we also, often put down people. When we look down on people, we often lash out at them.

See, prejudice or favoritism or partiality – it’s treating people as more valuable than others. It’s also looking down on those with whom you disagree.

And finally, it’s overlooking those who make you feel uncomfortable. It’s when we overlook the people around us that make us feel uncomfortable.

The people that come to my mind is the homeless population, frankly. I remember my kids and I were picking up Chipotle to go. And so we get Chipotle and as we are pulling out and pulling onto the road, there’s a homeless, a young homeless man. And I’ve got to be honest, let me just tell you my heart, I looked at him and it was like, I’m pretty sure he’s a meth addict. I don’t agree with why he’s there. What did I do? Pre-judged him.

And my son says, “Dad, can we give him some of our food?” And I’ve got to be honest, I’m a little bit germophobic and it’s like, well, we have tacos and you can’t really give tacos, one taco, and then we’d have to touch him. And I didn’t explain all this, this is what I’m thinking. And I’m like, “No, I don’t think so.” And he’s like, “Dad, can I just give him one of my tacos?”

“Well, you see, tacos don’t transport well and this is not how it goes.” And then the light turns green. And he’s still asking, “Dad, why can’t we give him?” And I realized my son gets it and I don’t.

And I said, “Son, let’s turn around and let’s go buy him a big old burrito and let’s drop it off.” He’s like, “Thanks, Dad.” I’m like, “No, thank you. Because you led the way, not me.”

See, favoritism or partiality is overlooking those who make you feel uncomfortable. And it’s such that I find in my heart that it’s not just an act, but how do I make this a habit?

It’s like the person that comes over that is a little awkward maybe or that you go, “They’re an EGR.” That’s “extra grace required” person where you’re like, “Oh my gosh.” And you go, “No, no, how can I love them? How can I engage and not just go, “It would be easier.” You are right, it would be easier.

And are there times where you just hang with your friends? Absolutely. I’m not saying that you don’t do that, but where we wouldn’t be a clique-oriented, but we would lean to the fringes and we said, “No, no, no. Every, single person is valuable and we are not going to look down upon those we disagree. We are going to learn how to lovingly disagree and treat one another with honor and respect. And we are going to engage in those uncomfortable places to love those that Jesus loves.”

And so, James then shifts the conversation from talking about: well, what is favoritism? What does it look like? And he wants us to get this. Why he starts with, like, this – this is a big deal. And he says, “Well, why is this such a big deal?” He’s going to give us three reasons.

Reason number one, first, it is an affront to the very heart of God. It’s an affront to the character of God. He begins it this way. He says, “Listen,” pay attention, don’t miss this, and again, “my dear brothers, we’re family, we’re the family of God,” so especially in the family of God, this shouldn’t be happening.
Favoritism plays out when I treat certain people as more valuable than other people. When I treat wealthy people as more valuable, when I treat beautiful people, when I treat influencers, when I treat those important position as more valuable than other people.

It looks like when I look down on those with whom I disagree. When we look down on people, we often lash out at them.

See, prejudice or favoritism or partiality – it’s treating people as more valuable than others. It’s also looking down on those with whom you disagree.

And finally, it’s overlooking those who make you feel uncomfortable. It’s when we overlook the people around us that make us feel uncomfortable.

The people that come to my mind is the homeless population, frankly. I remember my kids and I were picking up Chipotle to go. And so we get Chipotle and as we are pulling out and pulling onto the road, there’s a homeless, a young homeless man. And I’ve got to be honest, let me just tell you my heart, I looked at him and it was like, I’m pretty sure he’s a meth addict. I don’t agree with why he’s there. What did I do? Pre-judged him.

And my son says, “Dad, can we give him some of our food?” And I’ve got to be honest, I’m a little bit germophobic and it’s like, well, we have tacos and you can’t really give tacos, one taco, and then we’d have to touch him. And I didn’t explain all this, this is what I’m thinking. And I’m like, “No, I don’t think so.” And he’s like, “Dad, can I just give him one of my tacos?”

“Well, you see, tacos don’t transport well and this is not how it goes.” And then the light turns green. And he’s still asking, “Dad, why can’t we give him?” And I realized my son gets it and I don’t.

And I said, “Son, let’s turn around and let’s go buy him a big old burrito and let’s drop it off.” He’s like, “Thanks, Dad.” I’m like, “No, thank you. Because you led the way, not me.”

See, favoritism or partiality is overlooking those who make you feel uncomfortable. And it’s such that I find in my heart that it’s not just an act, but how do I make this a habit?

It’s like the person that comes over that is a little awkward maybe or that you go, “They’re an EGR.” That’s “extra grace required” person where you’re like, “Oh my gosh.” And you go, “No, no, how can I love them? How can I engage and not just go, “It would be easier.” You are right, it would be easier.

And are there times where you just hang with your friends? Absolutely. I’m not saying that you don’t do that, but where we wouldn’t be a clique-oriented, but we would lean to the fringes and we said, “No, no, no. Every, single person is valuable and we are not going to look down upon those we disagree. We are going to learn how to lovingly disagree and treat one another with honor and respect. And we are going to engage in those uncomfortable places to love those that Jesus loves.”

And so, James then shifts the conversation from talking about: well, what is favoritism? What does it look like? And he wants us to get this. Why he starts with, like, this – this is a big deal. And he says, “Well, why is this such a big deal?” He’s going to give us three reasons.

Reason number one, first, it is an affront to the very heart of God. It’s an affront to the character of God. He begins it this way. He says, “Listen,” pay attention, don’t miss this, and again, “my dear brothers, we’re family, we’re the family of God,” so especially in the family of God, this shouldn’t be happening.

“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?” You’re going to notice in these three reasons, he’s just simply unpacking the Sermon on the Mount and what Jesus had taught. That’s Matthew chapter 5, verse 3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Blessed are those who recognize they are spiritually bankrupt. Blessed are those who recognize that whether I’m physically or spiritually bankrupt, I actually know that I need God and so, therefore, my faith is only can be found in God, not in what I have.

He says, Man, Jesus came and hung out with all the wrong type of people. Jesus loved and served and welcomed many – the marginalized, the mistreated, the disadvantaged, the exploited.

And he goes, he goes on to say, “But you have dishonored the poor,” those who Jesus honored. It’s a violation and an affront to the heart of God. Every person made in the Imago Dei.

See, when I treat a poor person or any person poorly, it’s exactly opposite of how God would treat them. Let me say that again. When I treat a poor person or any person poorly, it’s exactly opposite of how God treats them, brothers and sisters.

We have to be a people who courageously confront the evil of racism. And at the same time, we have to not perpetuate the same evil in return.

That’s why I was so grateful for Tony Dungy’s response to this. He’s a football coach, or was, a championship football coach, amazing Christian man.

He said this, “justice needs to be served, but in seeking justice, we can’t fall into step of preju – pre-judging every police officer we see.” What started out as peaceful protests have devolved into arson and looting and should never have happened either. Yes, there should be protests, but we do not have license to perform criminal acts because we are angry. Today, we are a divided country. We are divided racially, politically, and socio-economically. And Satan is laughing at us because that is exactly what he wants – dysfunction, mistrust, and hatred helps his kingdom flourish.

“Well, what is the answer, then?” he asks. “I believe it to start with those of us who claim to be Christians, we have to come to the forefront and demonstrate the qualities of the One we claim to follow, Jesus Christ. We can’t be silent. As Dr. King said so many years ago, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!’ But we can’t go forward with judgmental, bitter spirits. We need to be proactive but do it in a spirit of trying to help make things better. And it can’t be just the African American churches.”

So listen up, it has to be all churches taking a stand and saying, “we are going to be on the forefront of meaningful dialogue and meaningful change.” We have to be willing to speak the truth in love, but we have to recognize that we are not fighting against other people, we are fighting against Satan and his kingdom of spiritual darkness. In the words of the apostle Paul, “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

That is so well said. I hope that we take that to heart. The first reason this is a big deal, it’s an affront to the heart of God. The second reason is the law of love demands consistency.

He goes on to talk about the royal law of God that, found in the Scriptures, love your neighbor as yourself. And if we do that, then you’re doing well. But then he says, “If you show favoritism, you sin.”

It harms and breaks the royal law of loving your neighbor as yourself. He says, “And you’re convicted by the law.” See, the royal law, it’s royal for a couple reasons. Royal because it’s the law of God, it’s the law of the kingdom of heaven, and it’s the law upon which all other laws fall under. Like, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not lie.” It’s all based on love.

It’s just like loving you means I’m not going to do these things. Loving my neighbor. And what we do is we pick and choose which kind of love we want to do and say, “Well, I do this love and I don’t do this and I feel good, and as long as I’m not doing this then it’s okay.” And James is saying, “No, you can’t pick and choose. Love must be consistent across the board.”

You can’t pick and choose your neighbor. Love must be consistent. You can’t pick and choose what of these things to obey. By the way, this is a command. You must not show favoritism. We must not show favoritism. Follower of Jesus – it’s not optional. It’s not optional. It’s not like, “Well, I don’t like that one.” I don’t care. Are you a follower of Jesus? This is what we are called to do.

The law of love demands consistency. And reason number three, you are not the judge and jury. God is. He goes on to say, “Speak and act as those who will be judged.” We don’t talk about this probably near enough, but even followers of Jesus will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give account for all we have done. It has nothing to do with whether you’re saved or not, but it has everything to do with how we actually experience eternity. And the apostle Paul would say, “And some will escape through the fire just barely.”

And what’s of gold and precious metals will remain and what’s made of wood, hay, and straw will be burned up. What is worthless. And see, when we speak and act, we talk as if we’re the judge, not as if we one day will be judged by what we say and what we do and how we live.

God is the judge. May I not judge other people’s motives. May I not speak angrily or somehow assume that I know best. I don’t know that person’s world. I don’t know that person’s reason. Where we would say, “No, no, no. I’m not the judge. I’m not the jury. God is.”

And so, how do we experience social restoration? Social restoration begins when followers of Jesus embrace there are no social distinctions.

Well, what do I do with this? How do we move forward? I think the first step is an embracing and owning that we all play favoritism. Remember, James said, “Stop playing favorites.” It’s already happening. We are all in this. Every single one of us – and own our own side of this.

And then we have to ask this question. Before you speak, before you act, before I speak, before I act, we have to ask this question: what does love require of me? See, love requires a lot of things of me. It requires me to speak up for those who don’t have a voice. It requires me to stoop down and tenderly care for those that are hurting. It requires of me to assume the most generous explanation for someone’s behavior.

What does love require of me before I ever speak and act? In doing so, you will keep the royal law of God.

Jesus, Jesus lived this out so well. And in John chapter 4, we get this picture. It’s the woman at the well. The Samaritan woman. And if you understand the context, there were so many things in that moment that created division, judgmentalism, and a divide.

And there in that moment, the woman was a Samaritan, which if you understand that, there was a racial and religious divide; animosity between Jews and Samaritans. And I don’t have time to get into that.

She was a woman. There was a divide between men and women and value system between men and women. And in fact, a rabbi would never speak in public to a woman he didn’t know like that, ever.

And then there was the moral divide. This woman was an immoral woman, had five husbands. And she was living with a man that wasn’t her husband. And Jesus at the well asked the question. I love His beginning. He wasn’t like, “Hey, I have something for you.” He asked something of her, “Would you give me a drink?” I see so much value, not only will I, in you, not only will I speak to you, I’ll invite you to give Me something I need.

And they begin this wonderful dialogue in which Jesus then explains. And she experiences the healing grace of God.
I like how Henri Nouwen had said it as he commented on this. And his experience of working with people in the nineties who went, were suffering from the AIDS pandemic at that time. And as a priest and had all these different thoughts about and judgments about where they were coming from, he said this in prayer, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly, but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer Your living water, which alone quenches the deepest thirst.”

God, help me to see others, not as my enemies or ungodly, as thirsty people. They just need Jesus, they need Jesus, we need Jesus.

Philip Yancy in his book Vanishing Grace said this, “Our confused society badly needs a community of contrast, a counterculture of ordinary pilgrims who insist on living a different way.” Social restoration begins when followers of Jesus embrace: there is no social distinction. May you ask, may I ask, may we be a people that ask and lean in: what does love require of me?