Alice (not her real name) is a member of the church and a Sunday school teacher of third graders. She confessed during her testimony last week that she spent many years wanting to "belong" in the church. She and her husband live in the next county over, and she thought perhaps geographical distance was part of the problem.
Alice told us that God began to show her that she does belong. He told her to take note of the people who in fact brush up against her, and to do good to them as she had opportunity.
"So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10).
Alice realized that it was not so much that she couldn't find where she "belonged"; it's that she wanted to belong to a certain kind of people, and she didn't even bother with other people! She wanted to belong to the "inner ring," that imaginary group that many of us, since junior high, have thought was the ticket to happiness.
Alice went on to say that it was when she started praying for people in the church that she took her mind off herself and started to forget about the "belonging" issue. Nowadays, when people are milling about the sanctuary before the service begins, she notices things she never saw before---a man off by himself; a teen looking scared.
God used Alice to show me that I also have an "inner ring" problem. There are certain people in the church that I take no account of, people I practically trip over on my way to greet other people. This is straight out of James (2:1-4), and it is straight out of the pit of hell (3:15).
"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 gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in and 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 sit over there,' or 'Sit down at my feet,' have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:1-4).
In my own case, the "partiality" is not means-based, or haute couture-based, but along more intangible lines. Maybe that's why I have been slow to recognize myself as being addressed in James' warning. I guess I just want to hang out with people I want to hang out with. But the Word of God bids us to love all the brothers and sisters. And the Lord tells us whom to invite for dinner (people who can't return the favor---Luke 14:12-14), and whom to associate with (those of low position---Romans 12:16).
C.S. Lewis addressed college grads in 1944:
"I believe that in all men's lives at certain periods, and in many men's lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring, and the terror of being left outside.
"My main purpose . . . is simply to convince you that this desire is one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action. It is one of the factors which go to make up the world as we know it---this whole pell-mell of struggle, competition, confusion, graft, disappointment, and advertisement, and if is one of the permanent mainsprings, then you may be quite sure of this. Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life. . . . Any other kind of life, if you lead it, will be the result of conscious and continuous effort. If you do nothing about it, if you drift with the stream, you will in fact be an 'inner ringer'" (The Weight of Glory).
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