The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 19, 2021

James 2:1-5, 8-10, 14-18

Seeing is Believing!

 

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?  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.  What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  (NIV1984)

 

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

 

Seeing is believing!  Have you ever heard someone speak those words?  What is the context in which someone might make that claim?  Some people might say, “Seeing is believing!” because they want you to prove to them that God actually does exist.  Some people might say, “Seeing is believing!” because they don’t think that either heaven or hell are real.  Still others might make the claim, “Seeing is believing!” because it is easier and more logical for them to put their faith in something more tangible— like science.

 

How are we to respond to the people who make that claim?  As Bible-believing Christians we might automatically respond by saying that they have it backwards!  Instead of saying, “Seeing is believing!” we maintain what Scripture proclaims, “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  If someone is looking for “proof” that God exists we can tell them look up and then share with them exactly what great King David proclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1).  Or we can ask them to look around and they will see exactly what Paul told the Romans, “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).  If someone is troubled by the fact the Christian faith is exactly that— faith— we confidently assure them of what the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

 

With all of that clearly and firmly in our hearts and minds, you may have been very surprised to read in your bulletin that our sermon theme for today is:  Seeing is Believing!  The key to understanding what I want to emphasize this morning is this— our sermon text for today is not talking about the existence of God.  Our sermon text for today is not talking about the reality of heaven or hell.  Our sermon text for today is not talking about Justification— how we are “Declared— Not Guilty!” by God Himself.  Our sermon text for today is not talking about Conversion, how we become a Christian.  No, my friends, our sermon text for today is very clearly talking about Sanctification— how we are to live the faith that God the Holy Spirit has created in our hearts.  Our sermon theme for today is specifically designed to lead us to ask ourselves the question, When other people look at us, what do they see and believe?  When they look at the attitude we have toward others and when they look at the actions of our life are they able to see and believe that we are who we claim to be?  Are they able to see and believe that we are what our Savior God has called us to be, “the salt of the earth”  and the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-16)?  With that emphasis front and center now we can understand why we are studying these inspired words of James under the theme:  Seeing is Believing!

 

Right from the get-go James makes it very clear that he is addressing these words to his brothers and sisters in the faith.  Look at what he says in the opening words of our text, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ….”  James is writing to people who by the power of God the Holy Spirit have been brought to the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth is “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.”  This means that James is writing these words to people like you and me— people who by the grace of God know Who Jesus is, people who by the power of God trust in what Jesus has done for them.  (Pointing to the cross)

 

It is on the basis of our common faith in Jesus that James gives us an example of how other people should be able to look at the attitude we have toward others and “see” our faith.  He writes, “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 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?”

 

Since James originally wrote these words to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations,” his readers were very familiar with how Jesus condemned the Pharisees because they loved “the most important seats in the synagogue” (Luke 11:43).  They also knew how the Pharisees looked down on Jesus because He was willing to eat “with tax collectors and ‘sinners’” (Matthew 9:11).  As believers in “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” James reminds his readers that they need to openly display the same attitude toward others that Jesus displayed.  They need to follow His example and avoid even the appearance of “favoritism.”  If someone saw them showing favoritism toward the person who was “wearing a gold ring and fine clothes,” while looking down on the person who was wearing “shabby clothes” it would be very difficult for them to look at James’ readers and believe that they are who they claim to be— people who are committed to following in the footsteps of Jesus, people who are committed to having a Christ-like attitude toward others.

 

When might Christians today be tempted to show “favoritism,” my friends?  If individual members of a congregation (or the congregation as a whole) give the impression that while they certainly do want more people to join their congregation, they also want them to be the right kind of people— people who look like them or talk like them, people who can contribute to the congregation with their offerings— then they are showing favoritism.  Then, as James says here in our text, they have become “judges with evil thoughts.”  But if individual members of a congregation (or the congregation as a whole) clearly and enthusiastically welcome everyone— no matter what their social status or financial standing might be— then others will be able to see and believe that they have a  Christ-like attitude toward others.

 

As believers in “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ,” we need to make sure that everyone is able to see that we believe in following the “standard” that God Himself used when He brought us into His Church.  James highlights that standard when he says, “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?”

 

If— if!— God showed favoritism in any way, shape or form, none of us would enjoy being “rich in faith.”  If— if!— God showed favoritism in any way, shape or form, none of us could expect to “inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him.”  The immense gratitude that we have in our hearts comes from knowing that the God of Heaven saved us purely because of His amazing grace.  The immense gratitude that we have in our hearts comes from knowing that the God who holds the universe in the palm of His hand guarantees to us that we will “inherit” His Kingdom purely because He loves us.  When other people look at us, when other people listen to us, are they able to see that this is what we believe?  Are they able to look at the attitude that we have towards others and see Jesus?

 

Seeing is believing.  As believers in “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” we not only go out of our way to make sure that other people can see our faith reflected in our Christ-like attitude toward others, but we also do everything we can to make sure that other people can see our faith reflected in the Christ-like actions of our life.  Look at verses 14-18 of our text.  James writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”

 

If these words were not specifically addressed to “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ,” they could be twisted to support the false teaching called work-righteousness.  Word-righteousness claims that you have to do something to earn God’s forgiveness.  You have to do something to earn God’s grace.  All such nonsense is negated when we simply remember Jesus’ words, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:17-20).

 

The “works” that James is highlighting here in our text are synonymous with the “good fruit” that Jesus emphasizes as an essential part of our life as a Christian.  This is where it is so easy to apply our sermon theme for today:  Seeing is Believing!  Put yourself in the shoes of one of your non-Christian friends, relatives, acquaintances or neighbors.  You invite them to come to church with you and they respond by saying, “You go to church?”  You are very conscious about living an openly pious life.  Everyone knows that you don’t drink, you don’t smoke, you don’t cuss, and you don’t watch dirty movies.  But when the people at work are taking up a collection to help a co-worker who has lost their home in a wildfire, you flat-out refuse to help.

 

Now flip those scenarios around and apply our sermon theme— Seeing is Believing!  Every time one of your non-Christian friends, relatives, acquaintances or neighbors invites you to get together on a Sunday, you enthusiastically respond by saying, “I’d love to!  I’ll meet you there— right after church!”  One of your co-workers is going through a difficult time in their life and no one is surprised when you are the one who is organizing a way to help them.  You work in the medical field — a doctor, a nurse, a therapist—  and your Christ-like compassion, care and concern are so evident that your patients and your co-workers openly comment about it.  You are a teacher or someone who works with children and again your Christ-like compassion, care and concern literally make a difference in the lives of the children you are striving to help.  That’s what James is talking about here in our text.  That’s what Jesus emphasized when He called you to be— the “salt of the earth” and “a light” in this dark and cold world.

 

“A good tree bears good fruit.”  “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”  Seeing is believing!  All three of those statements accurately describe our life as “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.”  My prayer this morning is that we are always aware of the fact that other people are watching us, my friends.  May God grant that everyone— both the unbelievers we come into contact with in our daily lives as well as our fellow Christians— may God grant that everyone will be able to see both the Christ-like attitude that we have toward others and the Christ-like actions of our lives and believe that we are who we say we are— believers in our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

 

To God be the glory!

 

Amen