Friday, August 08, 2008

Sunday School Lesson: Impartial Disciples

Purpose: To realize that the expression of Christian love makes it possible to avoid social and cultural discrimination and to honor all persons.

Scripture: James 2:1-13

What are some reasons why we may think that one person is more important than another?

What is it in us that makes us want to favor certain kind of people?

Where do you see prejudice being practiced?

What is the most extreme example of prejudice that you have personally witnessed?

Have you ever been the brunt of prejudice?

Have you ever been around someone who made you feel judged? Describe how that felt?

In what ways have you been a victim of favoritism or prejudice?

How have you shown favoritism or prejudice toward other people?

Why do we often treat rich people as more important than poor people?

How do we use physical appearance, job status, and athletic ability to show favoritism toward people?

Who is richer, a man with five children or a man with five million dollars? Why?
The man with the five kids, because he doesn’t want any more.

1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
James 2:1-4 NRSV

What is the greatest threat to the church?

Does the greatest threat come from the outside or the inside?

The greatest threat to the church, in my opinion, is the threat of becoming irrelevant. If the church is no different and holds the same attitudes as the outside world, then what use is the church?

(From page 75 in Adult Bible Studies):

James asked the early church, “How can you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and show such blatant partiality on the basis of wealth and social status?” That question holds relevance for us and should cause us to reexamine our attitudes and actions.

The danger of Christians and the church adopting the secular standards of the world is ever near. Too often the finance boards of churches are composed primarily of the wealthiest members, simply because of their wealth. Those with obviously less means are still often virtually ignored in some churches. Our own social circles are usually composed of people from similar economic means and racial backgrounds.

It is one thing to run a clothing bank or food pantry; it is quite another to invite the poor to teach your children in Sunday School or to serve on the Board of Trustees.

Do you think there are certain kinds of people we treat better when they come to our church?

How can we welcome poor people in our church?

Why does God have a special concern for poor people?

Why is it wrong to show favoritism to the wealthy?
(From Life Application Study Bible):
1. It is inconsistent with Christ’s teachings.
2. It results from evil thoughts.
3. It insults people made in God’s image.
4. It is a by-product of selfish motives.
5. It goes against the biblical definition of love.
6. It shows a lack of mercy to those less fortunate.
7. It is hypocritical.
8. It is sin.

Why is it wrong to judge a person by his or her economic status?

Wealth may indicate intelligence, wise decisions, and hard work. On the other hand, it may mean only that a person had the good fortune of being born into a wealthy family. Or it can even be the sign of greed, dishonesty, and selfishness. By honoring someone just because he or she dresses well, we are making appearances more important than character.

Why would we do that?

…because (1) poverty makes us uncomfortable; we don’t want to face our responsibiblites to those who have less than we do; (2) we want to be wealthy too, and we hope to use the rich person as a means to that end; (3) we want the rich person to join our church and help support it financially. All these motives are selfish; they view neither the rich nor the poor person as a human being in need of fellowship. If we say that Christ is our Lord, then we must live as he requires, showing no favoritism and loving all people regardless of whether they are rich or poor.

Is it OK to have favorite people?

Is it OK to play favorites?

What is the difference between having favorite people and playing favorites?

What is the opposite of favoritism? (prejudice) Is it equally bad? Worse? Better?

5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
James 2:5-6 NRSV

What has God promised to the poor of this world?

Quote of the Day:
God must love the common people because he made so many of them.” – Abraham Lincoln.

What does "rich in faith" mean? Can we control whether we are rich in faith?

James seems to be of the opinion that the poor are more likely to trust and to love God than are the wealthy. Is this true?

What are some possible reasons for why the poor may be more faithful?

It may be because the affluent rely on their riches for security, the poor have no riches on which to rely. God is their only hope for a better future. It may be easier for them to acknowledge the need for a savior. One of the greatest barriers to faith is pride.

What does the church do to the poor person when it shows favoritism toward the rich?

In what practical ways can we show genuine love to people of different races, cultures, and economic standing?

How does our church and class help the poor? What else could we do?

8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
James 2:8-13 (NRSV)

What is the royal law found in Scripture?

Why is it “royal”?

From William Barclay’s New Daily Study Bible:
It may mean the law which is of supreme excellence; it may mean the law which is given by the King of Kings; it may mean the supreme law; it may mean the law that gives the regal quality to people and is fit for royalty.

If you followed the one command in verse 8, would it be possible to sin in any other way?

How is favoritism a violation of the royal law of verse 8?

What does practicing favoritism do to a person who is trying to keep the law?

From Barclay:
James has been condemning those who pay special attention to the rich man who enters the church. “But”, they might answer, “the law tells me to love my neighbor as myself. Therefore we are duty-bound to welcome this man when he comes to church.” “Very well,” answers James, “if you are really welcoming the man because you love him as you do yourself, and you wish to give him the welcome you yourself would wish to receive, that is fine. But, if you are giving him this special welcome because he is rich, that is favoritism and that is wrong – and, far from keeping the law, you are in fact breaking it. You don’t love your neighbor, or you would not neglect the poor man. What you love is wealth – and that is not what the law commands.”

James’ key point is that wealth cannot be the criterion for assigning value to people and determining how we treat them. How does his view compare to ours?

Are there categories of sin, or are all sins alike?

How does a “minor” sin like prejudice rank against such things as adultery and murder?

What does a person have to do to be considered a lawbreaker?

Personally, I would much rather you lie to me than murder me and, if you are going to rob me, I would much rather you steal a dollar than a thousand. But I’m not sure God sees it that way.

Why is favoritism or prejudice often overlooked as a sin?

Verse 12 says that the law is a “law of liberty”.
How does the law give freedom?

If Christianity is about freedom, why do so many see it as about mere rule keeping?

Have there been times in your life when you perceived Christianity to be about mere rule keeping?

What place does rule keeping have in the Christian life?

Verse 13. Do we earn God's mercy by being merciful to others?

What does it mean mercy triumphs over judgment?

Those who have shown mercy will, in the end, find that their mercy has blotted out their own sin.

This question is just for our new members:

What has been helpful to you in feeling like you are a part of this congregation and this class?

What could our class or congregation do to make it easier for visitors and new members to feel welcomed and valued?

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