James on social discrimination

Practical, precise and penetrating epitomize James’ letter to the early church. Among other things, this brief letter exposes how evil might even lurk in the hearts of God’s people. Yet James extended hope.

We have no difficulty envisioning the sad scenario he painted. That he needed to address it at all with those whom God had transformed into being a kind of first fruits of his creation (James 1:18) ought to alert us to be on guard.

Before he lifted the curtain to reveal a sad drama within worship assemblies, James had described three actions characteristic of true godly devotion. The religious person bridles his or her tongue, cares for the disadvantaged and rejects the corrupting influences from the world.

Unfortunately, upon raising the curtain we perceive God’s people violating all three principles in their worship assemblies! Hearts infected with discrimination unleash unrestrained speech demeaning the disadvantaged.

As people enter the assembly, we watch as the poor such as widows, orphans and the under-compensated are verbally shuffled to the invisible margins of the room or to degrading seating. Meanwhile, from those orchestrating the social setting their hearts break forth in words offering privileged seating to those comfortable in life.

Many worldly contagions cultivate discrimination’s deadly disruption to a godly devotion. For example in that ancient culture, social events provided an opportunity for self-promotion and greater position. Hence the wealthy and powerful represented personal opportunity, while the socially disadvantaged became functionally invisible.

Thus James’ words. “Have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives?” (James 2:4).

Of course, the unspoken beliefs, values and goals behind the many forms of discriminatory behavior are numerous: Life is measured by what we possess, our success involves having more, some people are more valuable than others, God is only concerned about my ethnic grouping, what matters is saving my life by gaining the world, and so forth.

From beginning to end, Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ story reveals God overturning such worldly prejudices (Luke 2:10-14,30-32; 24:44-48). Jesus’ ministry involved multi-pronged teachings and demonstrations of kingdom and discipleship principles eliminating the seeds of favoritism (Luke 4:25-27; 9:23-26; 12:15-31; 16:10-15).

Just how important is it for God’s people to reject discrimination? Have we ever noticed how James’ comments on favoritism (James 2:1-7) immediately morph into commending love for others and pointing out that unless our faith is moved to action it is dead? (James 2:8-26).

Does scripture offer us any hope if we insist on stubbornly hanging onto prejudice while seeking to serve God? How much hope is there in a dead faith?

Yet, James envisioned hope in the possibility of transformation. Hope exists for those who humbly open their hearts to being shaped by God’s word. The commands James issued expect the possibility of repentance and obedience. The transformative work of God to give people new birth into being a kind of first fruits of his creation is more powerful than the corrupting influences of the world. Change is possible for God’s people.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. James 2:1

Speak and act as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom. James 2:12

The questions for us become: Are we humble before God? Will we banish any prejudice that desires to reside in our hearts by putting faith into loving action?




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