Series: JAMES: JUST DO IT
Title: "What to Do with Prejudice"
""My brothers and sisters, believers
in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ
must not show favoritism"
Prejudices are a huge trait in our society today, and sadly, it always has been and always will be. It is unfavourable treatment, usually based on discrimination against race, colour or gender. In this third part of the "Just Do It" series, Charles Price teaches about the sinfulness of favouritism, prejudices, discrimination, whatever label we put on it, being an injustice to our fellow beings, and turning those guilty of it into 'lawbreakers'. Scripture never leaves us with the diagnosis alone, but with the remedy, which is what James calls 'The Royal Law'.Click here to read entire article: (click to expand or compress)
The Ontario Human Rights Commission lists 17 grounds on which we may not discriminate against another person, some of which include race, color, disability, age, gender identity, marital status and sexual orientation. The examples James cites in Chapter 2 are representative of discrimination in general. He gives three incidents; the first one involving economic status, the rich over the poor by a church congregation that fawns over a rich man who walks into the assembly and humiliates a poor man who also comes in. He says, "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?" (James 2:2-4)
James first tells us in verse 1, "Don't show favouritism," then in verse 4, "Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" In verse 6, he says, "You have dishonoured the poor," and verse 9, "If you show favouritism you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers." James describes discrimination as evil, as sin, as dishonouring and as forbidden. Behind this is a sense of superficial values that are part of our culture, based on how a person looks, what they own, what they do and who they are. This is not just an inconvenience, not just a slight humiliation; it is sin, says James.
We need to examine the prejudices we harbour, and secondly examine the premise, the grounds on which we make our prejudicial actions and perspectives, because there is always a reason why we think the way we do. James tells us, "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbour as yourself,' then you are doing right" (2:8-9). We have something that transcends differences, fears and insecurities that lead to discrimination and it is called love. One of the best descriptions of love in the Bible is found in Philippians 2:3 (NASB), which says, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves..."
Theologian and author, Henri Nouwen writes: "The world seduces you to claim a false identity. You are what other people say you are or you are what you accomplish, or you are what you own. So in the world, if you don't do well, you don't have the right friends, or money, or success, you aren't. It divides the world into rich and poor." When we judge a person by appearances, we are victims of the subtle and superficial sense of values that James describes as sin and unlawful. If we have this sense about ourselves in wanting to impress others by our appearances, we will equally have a sense of condemnation of those who do not match up. The more we value the outer things, the less we value the inner things. The internal is where our true identity lies, and what God looks upon. When we judge by entirely wrong criteria, we are not only showing ourselves to be wrong and superficial, but as having evil thoughts.
The second example James gives of discrimination concerns God. He says, "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?" This may appear the poor have an advantage over the wealthy when it comes to the kingdom of God, but this is not what James is saying. We all stand on level ground before God. What he is saying is that it is the poor who again and again lead the way in spiritual life and vitality. He warns of the problem with riches being much more likely to corrupt. "Is it not the rich who are exploiting you?" he asks. "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?" (2:6-7). James is not vilifying the rich, saying they are corrupt, nor is he deifying the poor, saying they are icons of virtue. It is not wealth in itself that is corrupt, but the significance people attach to it. For some, it generates a sense of power and entitlement in which they can become corrupt and will exploit the less fortunate.
In Christ, we are motivated to give, but where does our charity begin? The strategy used by missionaries worldwide is the same strategy Jesus used. It is to start with the poor, not necessarily because they are more in need and far outnumber the wealthy, but because it is with the poor, the meek and humble of heart that the greater change is seen. This has nothing to do with wealth, but everything to do with believing in Jesus Christ. God plays no favourites. The transformation as seen in the lives of the poor is often the springboard that will draw entire communities, corporations and governments to the love of Christ, which then moves them on to His agenda.
The third example of discrimination James talks about is in regarding judgment over mercy. "Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment" (2:12-13). Inherent in the love of Christ within us are mercy and compassion. If we are going to make this world a better place, we need to start with ourselves; obliterate any form of discrimination, and convey the love of Christ, which He extends to everyone.
We need to examine our prejudices, the premise upon which we base our prejudices, and we need to examine our priorities. When judgment triumphs over mercy we become legalistic and judgmental. When we are judging someone, we are saying something about ourselves. Jesus said, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3) Those who are most judgmental usually have the most to hide. The Royal Law is love; it is merciful and gives freedom. In all our encounters with people who may offend us in some way, mercy triumphs over judgment. If we want to know the supreme example of how mercy triumphs over judgment, we just have to look at the cross of Christ.
The intrinsic danger in being told what to do is that it can be little more than moralistic preaching. Moralistic preaching is telling people if you behave better, you will be in a better relationship with God, but that is not the case. It simply leaves us with a 'to do list', typical of the Pharisees. All preaching has to take us back to Jesus Christ, who is not only the source of our blessings, but the source from which we derive a spirit of generosity, kindness, love and compassion. These are encompassed in the Royal Law of loving our neighbours, and considering others more important than ourselves.