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No Room for Prejudice
Thomas R. Fletcher
It shouldn't need saying. Unfortunately, we need reminding. There's no room for prejudice in the Christian life. We often let prejudice creep in though it's evil twin, favoritism. Skin color and cultural prejudice are common in our society. However, as Godís word makes clear, there are less obvious forms of this sin which hurt others and hinder fellowship. Manís prejudice is not Godís method.
"My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, donít 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, "Hereís 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? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? 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? 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" (James 2:1-9 NIV).
First of all, James issues a command against favoritism. Favoritism and prejudice are two sides of the same coin. One can not exhibit one without the other being present. In order to favor one person, you must ignore the qualities of another. The word translated "favoritism," (proswpolhmyiais) ---translated "personal favoritism" and "respecter of persons" in other English translations is defined as partiality, and means literally "the reception of faces." It is to hold regard for the outward circumstances of a person without regard for the character of the person.
There is a natural tendency to take a look at a person and form an opinion. This is stated as behavioral fact in the Old Testament, "man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart." We make these judgments all the time. We look at a person, and if that person has tattoos and body piercings, we form an opinion. We may form opinions based on skin color, dress, possessions or even political party. In the New Testament this tendency is presented as something to be overcome. Favoritism violates the law of love. It also violates the law of justice and equality.
Iím sure the original recipients of this letter would attempt to justify their actions by saying, "we are showing love." God sees beyond our surface actions, He checks out our motives. He knew that at the heart of these Christiansí action was not a motivation of love but a contempt of the poor. When we show favoritism to a group, at the same time, we show contempt for those of other groups. Respect of persons violates the very principles of Christianity. We have no business "ranking" people according to their positions or possessions. Favoritism demonstrates selfishness, rather than godly love of neighbor.
In our work and day to day dealings, we are to act with deference to our superiors, for the book of Romans exhorts us to "give honor to whom honor is due." However, in the spiritual realm, these distinctions are meaningless. God does not judge us according to the color of our skin or our possessions. Godís judgment is based upon our dedication to Him.
As we show favoritism, we demonstrate deceptive reasoning. We make decisions based on appearance instead of realities. Looking for personal benefit, resulting from their deferment to the rich, they instead reaped oppression. The original readers apparently thought that by playing up to the rich, favor would fall their way. Instead, they found themselves playing up to a group that would abuse them. These Christians treated the rich as if they were better than the poor. In reality, the rich were worse. Their actions won them no favors with the richĖbut hurt the poor who were neglected and pushed aside. I have seen people downplay or put down their own family, roots or background in order to be "accepted." They've masked their real selves. One may find a measure of acceptance, but it is the mask that's been accepted, not the person. If one wears a mask in order to be received by others, one must always keep up the mask or else face rejection. If a relationship is based upon a mask, there is no real relationship.
Deferring to those of wealth and means clearly shows the selfishness of the human heart. Deferring to the rich displays a propensity toward mammon worship. It shows a heart focused on the material. Blinded by the glint of material possessions we forget who we are and Whom we represent. Those of wealth and position are, too often, treated as if they are favoring us by attending our churches. Our respect is to be based upon a person's relationship and conformation to Christ's character. We have no right to defer to the rich while ignoring the poor. We have no right to defer to any political, cultural, or racial group while ignoring the needs of others. The message of Christís Gospel is for all people regardless of race, political party or social status.
I believe the warning especially needs to be taken to heart by pastors. It takes money to operate a ministry. Thus arises the temptation to extend favoritism to the wealthy. It is a temptation to favor the rich when they attend. One wouldn't want to offend and have them take their money elsewhere, so it's best to avoid the favorite sins of such people in the sermons.
We need to make people feel comfortable when they enter our church, but that comfort is to extend to all people. That comfort is not to be based upon wealth, position, political party, or cultural group. Comfort is to be extended on the basis of Christís love, which reaches out equally to all people of all levels of social status. Christ died for the sin of the world, the rich and the poor.
Showing favoritism results in evil thoughts. "Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:4) Those who make such distinctions apply the standards of the world while ignoring Godís standard. They waver between God's standard and the world's standard. They demonstrate a double-mindedness. While claiming to represent Christ, they reflect worldly motives. While claiming the faith which forbids partiality, they show favoritism. It is evil to make judgments based solely upon outward appearances. Judging by appearance is an exercise in evil thinking. Those who do are double-minded judges with evil thoughts. It is inescapableĖif one is prejudiced against any person, rich or poor, black or white, yellow or red one stands in violation of Godís standard.
As we make these distinctions, we overlook Godís choice, and it is sin. "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" (James 2:5)? Defer to the rich while walking over the poor is to ignore Godís choice. Mistreat a person based on race or social standing and you may be mistreating an heir of salvation. Have you insulted the poor, whom God has chose to be rich in faith, while the rich you honor oppress others and blaspheme the God you claim to serve? Any time one makes these distinctions, one risks opposing Godís choice.
"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" (James 2:8-9). We are to love not necessarily those whom we wish to love, but those whom we are commanded to love. We are to love our neighbor as our self. Who is my neighbor? My neighbor is any fellow human being on the face of the earth. Favoritism, discrimination, and prejudice are inextricably linked evils. Favoritism causes discrimination, acts of discrimination lead to permanent attitudes of prejudice. Those who wish to serve the royal lawĖthe law of Christ to love oneís neighbor as oneís selfĖmust love without respect of position or possession of the person being loved. Showing favoritism misses the mark of Christ's royal law, causing one to stand guilty as a lawbreaking sinner.