It is impossible to judge another person’s motives. And yet we have a tendency to do just that. We also cannot determine the heart of a person in a first-time encounter. Initial impressions may not always be right because we all have some built-in prejudices.
I. THE PRINCIPLE (Verse 1)
In James 2:1, James is saying, “Faith in God and partiality are incompatible.” They don”t go together. The term “favoritism”‘ in verse 1 comes from two Greek words, combined to mean “to receive by face”, and has the thought of accepting or welcoming someone by face value alone. The term, “favoritism”, is found in only three other New Testament passages, and in each instance it is made clear that God does not respect faces. He judges by the heart. The Lord Jesus wasn’t prejudiced. In Luke 14:12 it says of Jesus, “And He went on to say to the one who had invited Him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ ” Even Jesus’ enemies knew that Jesus was not prejudiced. In Matthew 22:16 the Herodians said to Jesus, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one, for you are not partial to any.” Prejudice can run so deep that it sometimes takes a tragedy to make one see how wrong it is to discriminate on the basis of physical differences. An article in the newspaper several years ago told of a truck driver who learned the hard way how bigoted he was. He had no use for blacks – until one saved his life. It was shortly after l a.m. when his tanker truck flipped over and burst into flames. A week later he lay in his hospital bed crying openly, for he was looking into the face of a black man who had used his own coat and his bare hands to smother the flames of what had been a human torch. Needless to say, this was one white man who, with tears of appreciation, learned to see through skin color.
II. THE PRINCIPLE ILLUSTRATED (verses 2-4)
In verse 2, James is talking about two people: one rich and the other poor. The words “gold ring” literally mean “gold-fingered”, suggesting that this man was wearing many gold rings. Also his clothes were made of the finest materials. The usher was faced with a choice: where should he seat these two people. Matthew 23:6 helps us better understand this situation by telling us that there were “chief seats” in the synagogues, The Pharisees loved these chief seats which must have been located down in front because they could enter the synagogue in their elegant robes and march toward the front, calling attention to themselves. Faced with this decision, the usher based his decision on externals only. James says in verse 4 that this is discrimination, and their motives are evil. If there is one place where class distinctions should break down, it is in a place of worship. Distinctions such as age, color, money, status, rank, size, and clothing should mean nothing. Jesus said to the multitude in John 7:24, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
III. THE PRINCIPLE EXPLAINED (verses 5-11)
In verses 5-11, James gives three arguments why prejudice is wrong. First, prejudice is not true of God. He says in verse 5, “Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?” Whether we are physically rich or poor, unless we recognize our spiritual poverty and our need for a Savior, we will never experience the riches of faith in Christ, and receive an eternal inheritance from God. Secondly, God isn’t concerned about wealth or poverty, but about the condition of a person’s soul. The people James is writing to were exalting the rich, and yet it was these rich people who were the very ones who were causing their pain and injury. Thirdly, in verses 8-11, James is saying that prejudice is sinful because it is against the Scriptures. One of the laws God gave to Moses was, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Showing partiality is a violation of that law.
Children in England used to play a game called “Saints and Sinners”. A hoop was set up at a certain distance, and the children were given ten arrows each. The object of the game was to aim them at the hoop. If anyone shot ALL of the arrows through the hoop, he was proclaimed a “saint”. If he missed just once, he was called a “sinner”. If he missed with all ten arrows, he was no greater sinner than if he missed with only one! One error was as bad as ten! That was the rule of the game. The same is true spiritually. The Lord Jesus never “missed the mark”, but kept God’s law perfectly. All others have sinned and come short of God’s standard. Therefore there is no excuse for prejudice because we are all equally sinners.
Let me share with you two stories about what has happened in the lives of two people as a result of the prejudice they experienced from Christians. A little boy named Joseph had polio. Someone finally took him to Sunday school, but the teacher neglected him. Later the young people ridiculed him and then avoided him because of his crippled condition. As a result, he dropped out of the class with a hatred for the church and the Lord Jesus Christ. He did, however, continue his studies in school. When he finally earned his doctorate from Heidelberg University, a man slipped his arm around him, saying, “Joseph, I think a lot of you; you and I could do much together. The young man responded warmly to this attention and encouragement, and in time Joseph Goebbels became the propaganda minister for that man: Adolf Hitler! Many wondered afterward what would have happened if that Sunday school teacher had shown love to this apparently unwanted individual, and had led him to the Lord. If the young people had befriended this needy person instead of ridiculing him, he might have become a minister for Christ instead of the Nazis.
Another case is a terrible incident that occurred in the life of Mahatma Gandhi. This man, who later gained world attention, says in is autobiography that in his student days he was truly interested in the Bible. Deeply touched by reading the gospels, he seriously considered becoming a convert. Christianity seemed to offer the real solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. One Sunday he went to a nearby church to attend services. He decided to see the minister and ask for instruction in the way of salvation, and enlightenment on other doctrines. But when he entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go and worship with his own people. He left and never came back. “If Christians have cast differences also”, he said to himself, “I might as well remain a Hindu”. He became one of the most famous people in the history of India and was a champion for the civil rights movement there, but he was never given the opportunity to experience the freedom of becoming a child of God because of the prejudice of a man who claimed to be a minister of Christ.
IV. THE PRINCIPLE APPLIED (verses 12-13)
One of the tests of the genuineness of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is how we treat other people. Can we pass the test? We all show prejudice at times, don’t we? Are there people you won’t talk to, or even acknowledge their presence, because of racial, social, economic, or educational factors? Are there others who treat you that way, and you are following their example?
Are we obeying the Scriptures and following the example of the Lord Jesus Christ in our treatment of others? I’m closing with a short prayer that Billy Graham offers in one of his devotionals: “Heavenly Father, fill me with that supernatural love of Jesus that enables me to reach out to the myriads of people who, in and of myself, would be impossible to love.”