The Gospel for the Rest of Us: Dealing with Shame

Sermon by Gabe Fluhrer on August 21, 2016

James 2:1-7

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As you’re sitting down, if you’d take your Bibles and turn to the book of James. You’ll find our passage on page 1011 if you’re using a pew Bible. We’ll be studying James chapter 2 verses 1 through 7; James 2:1-7. Again, welcome to you. If you’re a visitor especially, glad to have you with us. We’ve been studying this book this summer and we come to the second chapter here this evening. James 2, beginning at verse 1. This is God’s holy, inspired, and therefore inerrant Word. Let’s listen to it together:


“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a golden ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?”


Thus ends the reading of God’s Word. Let’s pray and ask His blessing on it!


Father, our prayer is expressed so beautifully in what we just sang. Send Your victorious Word abroad tonight. Bring the strangers home. If there are strangers here tonight, would they find come and welcome in the name of Jesus and would You help us, Lord, to see Him as highly exalted, as more believable than all the voices that clutter our minds? We pray in His mighty name, amen.


Full disclosure! Shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but I’m not too much of a reality TV guy. If you are, it’s okay, not judging, but one show that did catch my attention a few years ago was the show, Undercover Boss. And the whole premise of the show was the boss, the CEO of a multimillion dollar corporation, everything from Subway to Circle K, Burger King, would disguise himself and sometimes it was very elaborate disguises for the CEO, the man or the woman, and they’d go to a local store, they’d pick a store out throughout the nation, and they’d go in as one of the workers. And one of the things that was fascinating to watch in that show was how the workers who were kind of the work-a-day people there treated the new employee who was the CEO. And they would immediately judge the person, the CEO, by how that person was dressed. So sometimes the CEO would come in very shabbily dressed looking for a job and it was fascinating to see how the employees treated that person, treated the CEO. And at the end of the show, it would be revealed to the employees that that was their CEO they were really talking too and you’d see the expressions on their faces and it was everything from, “I’m out of a job because of how I treated him,” to, “This is wonderful. I’m glad I get to meet the guy or the girl.”


But what was highlighted in that show was the problem that James observed 2,000 years ago and it’s the natural tendency we have in all of our hearts and that is to show favoritism based on appearance. We’re all doing that! Every time we walk in a room and we meet somebody, we’re all looking at what that person looks like, judging on verbal cues and making assumptions. But what James does for us this evening takes us deeper. He’s not just dealing with the surface issue of a rich person coming into an assembly. That’s just the presenting problem. He goes deeper, as we’ll see.


Again, just some context. This book can be summarized in two words – genuine faith. Again, James is not a book about how to be saved by your work. It’s a book about what works saved people do. It’s a book that highlights the grace of God. It’s a book that shows us what genuine faith is. And last week, verses 1:26-27, formed a bridge that set the tone for the rest of the book and really introduced the themes of the rest of the book of James. And that first theme comes to us this evening in chapter 2, and it’s worldliness. James says, “Keep yourself unspotted from the world,” and right here at chapter 2, beginning at verse 1, he gives us an example of worldliness to illustrate. We’ll come back to that in a moment. Chapter 2, can be summarized in two words and really two major sections – 2:1-13, is the problem of favoritism; 2:14, to the end of the chapter is faith. Two words to summarize chapter 2, – favoritism and faith. We’re in that favoritism section tonight and chapter 2 verse 1, introduces everything that goes on to the end of verse 13. We’re just going to study verses 1 through 7, together this evening.


But here’s what James wants us to see tonight; at least one thing. He illustrates our natural tendency to shame and be shamed, to shame and be shamed, and then gives us the remedy for shame. That’s what he’s up to! And he does that for us under two headings; Shame illustrated in verses 1 through 4, and shame remedied in verses 5 to 7. Shame illustrated in 1 through 4; shame remedied in 5 through 7.


Shame Illustrated


Look back with me there at verse 1. “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” Notice how he begins this verse 1, and there again in verse 5, and he’s done this before. He says, “My brothers,” and then, “My beloved brothers.” James tells us hard things, but the way he does it is so important and so helpful for us. He calls us brothers. He’s a good pastor. He situates rebukes in the context of, “I’m for you.” James is not putting out for us these impossible commands in order to shame us further. He’s saying, “You’re my brothers. I’m speaking to you. I’m on your side. Let’s talk about this problem in your assembly.” And what is it? He goes and tells us there in verse 2. “If a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly,” and then verse 3, “you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place!” The problem is favoritism.


And before he gets and unpacks that for us, did you notice what he inserts right there? It’s one of two times in the New Testament that this phrase occurs. The other is in 1 Corinthians 2 verse 8. James calls Jesus, “the Lord of glory.” Why is that significant? James is a Jew and as we read his book, a very devout Jew who has now become a Christian after seeing what has happened with his half-brother, Jesus. Paul is a devout Jew. Philippians 3, he tells us he’s a “Pharisee of Pharisees!” We have two devout Jews taking a title that was among the highest titles for Yahweh, the God of Israel, in the Old Testament. Yahweh is called “the glory of Israel.” He is called, “the Lord of glory.” And James takes that and with no embarrassment, no explanation, applies it to Jesus, applies it to the guy he had dinners with, that he grew up around the family table with, and says, “This man is not just a man. He’s the God-Man.” And moreover, he does that to introduce us to this problem of favoritism because one of the defining characteristics of Yahweh in the Old Testament was that He was the God who showed no partiality. Read through the Old Testament law – Deuteronomy, Leviticus – again and again, that phrase comes up. “Don’t show favor to the rich or to the poor. You shall judge with one rule for both because God shows no partiality.” So before James gets to this problem of favoritism, he says, “Remember who your faith is in. It’s in the Lord of glory. It’s in the God-Man. It’s in Yahweh come in the flesh and He shows no partiality and neither should we.”


The Problem of Favoritism

And then he begins on the problem of favoritism. And here’s what’s important to understand; favoritism is simply a species of shame. Why? When we say to somebody what they were saying, or we can do it consciously, unconsciously. What’s happening in James’ time is somebody walks into a church service – it’s interesting, James doesn’t use the typical word for church. He actually uses the word for synagogue here. And so he’s talking about a gathering, I think, of believers; he just uses a different term. He says this rich man comes in and he’s given all the attention and a poor man walks in and he’s told to stand off to the side. He’s given the poorest seat in the house. What are they saying to that poor man? “You don’t belong here! You are unworthy to be like everybody else!” And that, friends, takes us to the root of shame.


What Shame Is

A researcher, recently who’s done just amazing work, she’s not a Christian but has just brought this stuff to light is a woman by the name of Brene Brown. And her Ted Talks have been viewed something like 25 million times. Again, not a Christian; thankfully we’ve got Christians working to kind of integrate her wonderful research into a Biblical worldview, but here’s what she says about shame. “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience,” feeling or experience, “of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love or belonging.” Did you hear what she’s saying? Unworthy of love or belonging; we’re deeply flawed. Shame is an identity; shame is an identity and we can summarize it in three word – you don’t belong.


Have you ever felt like that? Can you identify with this poor man in the text? You’ve walked into a room and immediately you know you don’t belong. Shame is a universal experience for all of us. From the highest executive who seems to have everything and yet he may come home and remember the scornful look of a father that caused him such shame and he is working so hard to get approval. It may come from the young mother who is terrified that you and I will find out what she actually says to her kids when we’re not all playing shiny, happy people. It’s the person who walks into a room full of people who are dressed a certain way and all the memories from middle school and high school flood back that scream at him or her, “You don’t belong here!” That’s what shame does.

And notice how James diagnoses this. He says, “Have you not made,” verse 4, “distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” James goes right to our hearts again as he always does. He says when you show favoritism you make distinctions God doesn’t make and the problem is your heart full of evil motives and evil thoughts. The person who shames another is saying in his heart or her heart, “I’m good enough. Something is not wrong with me that is wrong with you and therefore I have the right, the ability, even the duty to exclude you, to make sure you feel like you don’t belong.” And that was expressed in the 1st century by where you sat. And that’s what’s happening here and James is absolutely astounded by this situation and wants to remedy it. So think about this! When we show favoritism, its close cousin right there, actually its overarching umbrella, is shame. And all of us do it, all of us experience it, so what do we do about it?


Shame Remedied


In the second place then, shame remedied. Look at verse 5; look how James does this for us, “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” James starts out to remedy shame for us and he walks us through it this way. He says, “Remember who God has chosen, the poor of the world, to be rich in faith and receive the inheritance, for those who love God.” What he is not saying is that if you are poor you are automatically saved and if you are rich you’re automatically not saved. That’s not his point! He’s using it as a convenient illustration to teach us a deeper truth. He’s telling us how shame works. Remember, shame says, “You’re not good enough. You don’t belong!” Here’s what James says; “God in the Gospel says, “I chose you!” Notice that language; “chosen.” Here’s again the emphasis of grace in the book of James. He gave it to us in chapter 1. He says it’s His Word that saves us. We are to become slaves of grace following Jesus, longing to obey what He tells us to do, precisely because He’s already saved us. He’s chosen us! Where the world says, “You don’t belong,” God says, “I chose you.”


Our Coming Inheritance

And He does it with specific means. He comes to those who are in the middle of shame, the poor man in this instance, and says, “I’ve given you faith, I’ve given you a love for me” – we’ll come back to that in a second – and what he’s saying is, those who are counted unworthy by the world are those who are brought into His presence by grace alone through faith alone to go from hearing the shouting of unworthy to them to singing, “Worthy is the Lamb” for eternity. That’s where he’s taking them! That’s what the effective choice of God does in our lives. It gives us an inheritance. That’s what’s coming to us. What shame loves to do, how shame thrives in our lives, is by always, always calling us to live in the past. Shame is a perverted version of the call all throughout the Scriptures to remember. You notice how God does that to us. He says, “Remember My grace, remember My mighty works,” and shame says to us, “Remember you don’t belong, remember you failed.” Shame says, “Focus on the past.” What James says is, “Look at the inheritance that is coming and let that shape your present. Look at what you’ve been chosen to inherit, for those who love Him.”


And we know throughout the rest of Scripture the only way we love God is if He first loves us. “We love because He first loved us,” the apostle John tells us. And so the remedy for shame, James says, is to remember who chose you and how He did it and what He’s up to. The love of God is what makes all the difference. Shame is brought out into the light and conquered and dispelled only by the bright shining love of God. And when that love dawns in our hearts, we begin to love Him back. And James says as that cycle begins to work in our lives, we find that remedy for shame. We find out what our true identity, our true inheritance is. We find out that no matter the world’s judgment on us, the one and the only one whose judgment matters has already been found in our favor because He chose us. Isn’t that wonderful?


Why Shame Backfires

And then James also points out a remedy for shame to remind us that shame backfires. Look at verse 6; “But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?” It backfires! It backfires by dishonoring those whom God honors. Remember he told us we made ourselves judges with evil thoughts and James says, yes, you try to pretend to be like God when you shame another person when you judge somebody in the wrong way. And the crazy thing is, you’re accruing power to yourself, you’re taking power to yourself to make a judgment. And it makes us feel God-like, but we’re actually the furthest thing away from God when we do that, James says.


We dishonor those whom God has honored, oftentimes the materially poor. Why does James focus on the poor? Because if God is all you have, then God is all you’ll need. And uniquely throughout history in God’s providence, this is again not a judgment against rich people; James is not after that. What he’s saying is the wrong use of wealth, the wrong trusting in wealth, the whole Bible is against. And he’s saying those who are poor generally can have an easier time trusting God because that’s all they have to depend on. And shame backfires when we dishonor those whom God honors. But it also backfires in that shame is always also about winning the approval of others. “I’m going to exclude you and be in this group and want their approval so much that I’ll treat and dishonor somebody whom God has honored.” And James says that doesn’t even work because at this time, the rich who came to the church, who should have been changed by the Gospel, who should have been the ones to get rid of shame, were the very ones violating God’s Law by taking other believers to court. So the very people that these early Christians were trying to impress were in fact not impressed and holding them down. Shame always backfires. The shaming person always finds that shame backfires on him or her.


Two Kinds of Glory

So in this section, James really gives us two kinds of glory. He says there’s the glory that comes from being an inheritor of God’s grace and His mercy and His love and all that is coming to us because of what He’s done for us. There’s that kind of glory which the world generally does not see as glory. Or, there’s the fading glory which we all love, which we all desire – the glory that can be seen from outward appearance. And James says one heals shame, the other contributes to it. And we’re all seeking after either one of those kinds of glory.


The Difference Between Guilt and Shame

So then let’s get practical! What does this mean for us in day to day life? I want to say two things; first, it’s so vital for us to recognize as James is pointing out here, shame occurs in community and it is remedied in community. That’s the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is very much oftentimes, most of the time, almost all the time, a personal matter – “I’ve done something wrong. I feel bad about that. I feel guilt.” Shame, though it’s the flipside of guilt, shame is a public reality. Again, “I don’t belong. I’m not worthy of love or acceptance!” Shame is a public reality and that’s what’s happening here in public. The poor man is being shamed. It happens to us, we do it to others, and how is it going to be remedied? Ray Ortland gives an equation for Gospel change that, I read it this week, I love it! He says the remedy is the Gospel plus safety plus time. That’s how change in our communities occurs, our believing communities, the church. The Gospel plus safety plus time. Lots of hearing the Gospel. The Gospel, which is not just how we get to heaven, but how we live our everyday lives. The Gospel that is for every aspect of our lives as Christians from start to finish. The Gospel which is found on every page of this Book. Yes, the genealogies in Chronicles that most of us, if we’re honest, skip over or read quickly in our yearly reading Bible plans if we do that. Those teach us the Gospel; those show us, Jesus.


And what Ortland’s point is, when we’re saturated with this Gospel, when it works into our lives and you add with that safety, shame hates safe people. Shame hates safe people! What do I mean by that? People whom you can breakdown too, people who know your junk and love you enough to, in the middle of your junk say, “I’m going to walk with you through it and we’re going to learn how to love Jesus better and follow Him more closely together.” And the safety component is huge, isn’t it? Because what happened in James’ day and what happens so often in our day is we’re not safe people and our churches are not safe places to be people who’ve been shamed, people who are broken. And when it comes down to it, all of us know we’ve got this problem in our lives, don’t we? All of us know there're things we would want nobody in this room to see if we put it on a screen behind us. All of us have it! And the madness of sin is that we convince ourselves that we’re better off than somebody else so that we can shame that person and so we become unsafe. We need the Gospel to make us safe people, people who start to live out the kind of community the New Testament lays out for us. Don’t you want that? Don’t you want this to be a place where we are growing together and we are fallen and things are messy and in the middle of that we see Jesus begin to change us and we’re encouraged by that and we help each other and we encourage each other along the way as we make our way to that celestial city, as we make our way to the wedding supper of the Lamb.


Gospel plus safety plus time. I am so thankful the longer I am a Christian that God is patient. I don’t, there're times, I don’t know if you feel this way, but you’re wondering, “Can He forgive me again? I fell for the same thing. I fell for the same temptation.” And every single time He comes with the promise, “I have cast your sins away as far as the east is from the west.” Safety plus time with the Gospel allows shame to be driven out and true Christian community to flourish. But shamed people and ashamed people gathered in a community that becomes this beautiful picture of the Gospel, this shame is only remedied by a community that’s gathered around the shamed one.


Berne Brown again says that shame is cured by vulnerability and empathy. And here’s where I think her research falls short. That’s true, we need to be those kinds of people, but we’ve got to realize the reason we can be. We’re not there yet; the reason we can be those kinds of people is because Jesus is the most vulnerable and empathetic person who’s ever walked this earth. Could you be more vulnerable than to be a 1st-century Jewish rabbi and go to a bunch of prostitutes and love them? A bunch of tax collectors and the other unworthies and say, “I don’t care who shames me!” That’s why the Pharisees hated Him! He didn’t care about their shame; He cared about going to the shamed ones. He was vulnerable. He was approachable. Aren’t you fascinated by the fact that our Savior, who was not some girly Man, He overturned marble tables, drove out people, two hundred people or more from the temple with a whip single-handedly! You didn’t mess with Him! And the children loved Him, came up to Him. He exuded, “Come to Me” atmosphere, aroma, that little children would have flocked to Him. He felt safe to them because of His vulnerability.


Jesus Endured the Ultimate Shame

And the story of the cross, my friends, is the story of empathy like the world’s never heard. You want to talk about empathy? It doesn’t get more empathetic than the cross because at that cross, Jesus, the one who never knew shame, who eternally dwelt with the Father and the Spirit became the shamed one, the ultimate shamed one. “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood.” He’s naked on the cross, taken back to that place where shame entered. Shame enters at a tree where man realizes he’s naked and because of that sin, shame floods our lives and Jesus hangs on the cross naked to take it all away. When Satan thought he had the final victory and shame thought it would forever flourish, because of the shame Jesus underwent it was at that moment, that moment that shame could be eradicated forever. Because of the shamed one. If we want healing for our shame, the only way it comes is if we look upon the shamed one and say with the hymn writer, “In my place, in my place condemned He stood, bearing shame, my shame, my scoffing, in my place.”


Believe it or not, there’s a time in recent church history where there're been instances of favoritism. That’s probably not hard to believe at all but in a very public way. Some of you will remember reading about, maybe hearing, seeing and reading in novels or seeing in movies “pew rents.” You can go to some of the elder churches in this country and see that there used to be pew rentals. You would literally pay a fee to sit in a certain spot. And the worst spot in the house was always reserved for the pews that had a giant sign over them that read, “Free.” So immediately you knew who the rich people were because of where they sat and you knew who the poor people were. Shame. Favoritism.


And you know what James says to us is that it’s shocking that it happens, it shouldn’t happen, but when this kind of thing happens with pew rents or with what he’s talking about here, he says the Gospel reverses this so beautifully. Because you remember what Paul said about seating, just like this text is dealing with, just like pew rents are dealing with? Ephesians 1:22 – he says we’ll be and have been seated with Him in the heavenly places, seated already with Christ. By our union with Him, in a mysterious way, don’t know how to explain it any more clearly than Paul put it, he says we’re with Him; not fully participating in that yet, but in principle, we’re seated with Him in the heavenly places. And my friends, when you and I get to heaven, every seat at that table, at that feast is going to be marked, “Free.” Free grace brought me here. Free from shame. Free from guilt. No more distinctions because the one who calls us to sit at that table is the shamed one. And because of that, He can promise us as we heard from the book of Isaiah, as He tells us in Romans 10, those who believe in Him will never be put to shame.


Let’s pray!


Father, we confess and admit our tendency to be proud and show favoritism and we don’t want to do that. We’re very imperfect people here tonight but we long, how we long to be more obedient to Jesus, more like Him. And we recognize that we can’t do that. We’re so powerless. Would You help us this week and every week to be people who have a lot of Your Gospel, a lot of safety, and a lot of time? We ask all these things in the name of the one who was shamed in our place, even Jesus. Amen.

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