No Pecking Allowed
“No Pecking Allowed”
May 17, 1998
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby 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: 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 insulted 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 slandering 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, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do 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!
The phrase “pecking order is a one that we’re all familiar with, but maybe some of us don’t know where the phrase originated. Actually, it comes from a pretty amazing phenomenon that can be observed on any chicken farm. All you have to do is put several chickens together in a pen - even chickens that have never had any contact with one another whatsoever - and the chickens will form a hierarchy based on dominance. They arrive at the hierarchy through a series of “chicken fights” with the winner always advancing up the ladder. Within a matter of minutes the pecking order is established from top to bottom.
Now, the results of these fights are vital for the chicken society. Let’s say we’ve got ten chickens. Chicken #1 has the luxury of pecking at and intimidating every other chicken in the pen without any threat of retaliation. Chicken #2 must always give way to Chicken #1, but he has the privilege of turning right around and taking a chunk out of #3 - #10. Chicken #3 has to submit to #1 and #2, but he gets to dominate 4 - 10. Now this pattern continues all the way down to poor #10 who has to give way to every other chicken, and has no chicken of his own to peck. So the result is a chicken “caste system” in which every chicken knows and accepts his place in the hierarchy.
Now, there’s a reason that the phrase “pecking order” didn’t stay down on the farm, but made the leap into mainstream society. And the reason is that human beings are a lot like chickens when it comes to how we treat one another.
In the same way that chickens learn how to distinguish between one another by their strength and ability to fight, we are taught very early on by society how to distinguish between one another based on such things as the color of our skin, or the side of the tracks we grew up on, or the size of our bank account.
Now, granted, we have become more sophisticated and subtle in the way we maintain our pecking order. It’s no longer politically correct to be overt with it, so at least in some respects, it’s not so obvious. But it’s still there, and politics will never eradicate it because it’s not a social problem at its heart. It’s a sin problem.
And unfortunately, it’s a sin problem that doesn’t just exist in the world. From the day of James to today, it has also been a problem in the church.
Now, we know that it was a problem in James’ day because of verse 1. In the NIV, it reads, “Don’t show favoritism.” But in the Greek, the grammatical structure implies that James is referring to a practice already in progress. So, it should read more accurately, “Stop showing favoritism.”
And then to make sure the church he is writing understands what he means, he gives an example: Two men come into the sanctuary together. One is obviously wealthy because he’s dressed in fine clothes and expensive jewelry. The other is obviously poor because he’s dressed in rags. Now, everybody immediately makes a fuss over the wealthy man. First of all, they ignore the poor man to make sure the wealthy man gets the best seat in the house. And they do so with a very gracious and accommodating tone. Once he’s settled, they turn their attention to they poor man. But this time, their tone is haughty and condescending. They don’t even offer him a seat. He has the choice of standing in the corner or sitting on the floor.
Now, some scholars say this was probably an exaggeration meant to drive home James’ point. And it certainly is a strong image. But I’m not so sure its an exaggeration. I could see something like that actually happening. In fact, I have seen something like that actually happen. It happened in the first church I served right out of seminary. Our church had no young people at all, so I started a recreational ministry in the afternoons to try to reach some of the kids. We were blessed to have a basketball court right in our back yard, and before you knew it, dozens of kids were coming. Unfortunately, a few of our more influential members didn’t like the fact that some of the kids were black. So, one day, when I went inside to make a phone call, two of them showed up and ran the kids off the court and told them not to come back. I ended up leaving a short time later when the board made it official policy that black children couldn’t even play on the basketball court, much less stand in the corner or sit on the floor of the sanctuary.
A few months ago, I heard a very famous pastor tell about an experience he had while on vacation. He stopped over one Saturday night in a Mid-Western town, and the next morning he got up to go to church. The night before, someone in the hotel had been talking about a church that met outdoors. It was a beautiful morning, so he decided to attend there. But he couldn’t find the church, so he stopped off at two other churches. At the first church, he was told he should keep looking for the other church because he wasn’t dressed appropriately - he didn’t have on a suit. At the second church, he was snubbed not only because of his attire, but because he had gotten hot and sweaty from his walk. Finally, he gave up and worshipped God by himself. If either of the two churches had known who he was, they would have been begging him to preach. But because of his appearance, they wouldn’t even let him in the door.
Now, these are extreme cases. And I thank God that neither of these situations would ever occur at Christ Community Church. In fact, if you haven’t caught on, we intentionally dress down because we don’t want to turn worship into a fashion show. Our standard of dress is “come as you are” because that’s exactly the way God called us to Himself. Furthermore, one of our core values is that we want to be a church that reflects the diversity of God’s kingdom. We are praying that God will fill our ranks with men, women and children from every ethnic, social and economic group in the city. We want to be now what we’re going to be for eternity: one in Christ.
But we can’t pat ourselves on the back because we don’t have a problem with the extremes. We need to take James’ words as a warning because the temptation to make distinctions among ourselves in more subtle ways will always be present. But I think even more important is the fact that it’s not enough to simply accept one another in spite of our differences. We need to love one another with the love of Christ. With a love that is living and active. With a love that doesn’t even notice color, or social status, or economic standing. But a love that only sees brothers and sisters in Christ.
So, we, too, need to hear what James is saying. And we need to let his words challenge us even in the subtle places because we don’t want to just get by. We want to be everything God wants us to be. And we certainly don’t want to let the enemy pull us in gradually because we’re not paying attention.
So, what is James telling us here?
Helps Us Understand the Root of the Problem
Well, first of all, James helps us understand the root of the problem. He says in verse 4 that when we treat people differently based on external factors, we are “discriminating among ourselves.” Now it’s very interesting that the word James uses here for “discriminating” is a word that he has already used earlier in the letter. In 1:6, James speaks of a man who “wavers” in his faith. He calls that type of man “double-minded,” or one whose loyalties are divided. Now get this, James uses the exact same word in 2:4. The word that the NIV translates “wavering” in 1:6 is translated “discriminating” in 2:4.
Now what does that mean? It means that the root of the problem of favoritism or prejudice is a “wavering back and forth between the standards of the world and the standards of Christianity.”
In effect, if we look back to the end of chapter 1 - the passage we studied last week - James is saying, “You are hearing, but you are not doing. You have heard about Christian values, but you are practicing the values of the world.”
You have heard:
· In Christ you are all one, but in practice, you are treating one another as though some are more important than others.
· Those who desire to be great in the kingdom of God must serve the least., but in practice, you are exalting the great and demeaning the least.
· The way you treat “the least among you” is a direct reflection of your devotion to Christ, but in practice, you’re treating the greatest like Christ, and the least like yesterday’s trash.
James is saying that his listeners are wavering between the things they have learned in Christ and the things they’ve learned in the world. And in the end, the world is winning out because they are more concerned about the consequences of upsetting a VIP than the consequences of disobeying God.
So, the root of the problem has to do with faith. Their faith is not firm and secure. They are putting their trust in the things of the world rather than the things of God. That’s the root of the problem.
Reminds Us of the Seriousness of the Problem
The second thing James does is that he reminds us of the seriousness of the problem. For James, showing favoritism to one group and prejudice against another group isn’t just politically incorrect. It isn’t just a social snafu. It’s a sin. He says in verse 9: “If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”
Now, what is the law he’s talking about? In verse 8, he calls it the “royal law.” And it comes from one of the foundational scriptures of this church - the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Now, James only quotes the second half because that’s the part he is trying to emphasize, but he calls it the “royal law” because Jesus said all the other laws are contained in it. He said if we can live by this one Great Commandment, we won’t even have to worry about the others. By keeping this one, we’ll end up keeping all the others.
Now, James seems to anticipate what some in the crowd may have been thinking. “Well, it may be a sin, but it’s not a big sin. It’s not like committing adultery or murdering someone.” Do you ever find yourself doing that? Ranking your sins? Thinking to yourself, “Boy, I really need to repent over that one. That’s a big one.” Or maybe the opposite: congratulating yourself for avoiding the big sins when you know there are plenty of little ones that need to be addressed.
But James says there’s no such thing as big sins and little sins. He says, “If you stumble over just one law, you’re still a lawbreaker.” And the reason is very simple: The law, though it has many facets (many points), reflects as a whole the character and will of God. So, to break even one law is to violate the will of God and to contradict the character of God.
So, we have to be very careful not to fall into this pattern of ranking our sins. All sin is in abomination to God, no matter how acceptable it may be in the world. underestimate the seriousness of any action that violates the character of God. And nothing is closer to God’s heart than love - our love for Him and our love for one another.
Reminds Us of Our True Identity in Christ
Repent: Change our Attitudes; Change our Actions
Follow the Example of Jesus
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Gandhi was a nonviolent leader of India who helped his country achieve independence from Great Britain. As a student, he seriously considered becoming a Christian. As he read the Bible, Christianity seemed to offer a real solution to the caste system that divided India. So one Sunday, he decided to visit a Protestant church to ask the minister how to become a Christian. The church he chose had only white members. When he entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused to give him a seat, suggesting that he go and worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never entered another one. “If Christians have caste differences too,” he said to himself, “I might as well remain a Hindu.