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 2:3,4 NIV).
Discrimination. That one word is a hot-button for me. I grew up in the South during the birth-pangs of the Civil Rights movement. The first African American student in our high school’s history was on my cheerleading squad.
It was the 1970’s in Georgia. Racial tensions were high. As cheerleading captain, I fought hard to help our team overcome racism and learn to care for one another. To function as a team. I wasn’t a follower of Jesus at the time. That would come later. But in my heart, I knew discrimination was wrong, sinful, unjust.
James hammers home the dangers of discrimination. Racial tension wasn’t so much a problem for the early church as were religious and class distinction. Some things never change. There was still a wrestling match among believers about whether to allow all those “unclean Gentiles” into their fellowship. It was not an easy marriage. As leader of the Jerusalem church, James probably had to oversee his share of disputes. No wonder they called him “camel knees.” I’m sure he spent lots of time in prayer for love and unity among the believers.
Nearly sixty years ago J.B. Phillips,a minister in the Church of England, authored a New Testament translation which was one of the earliest attempts to capture God’s Word in a modern language. Notice Phillips’ word choice as you prayerfully meditate on James’ warnings about the dangers of discrimination:
Don’t ever attempt, my brothers, to combine snobbery with faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ! Suppose one man comes into your meeting well-dressed and with a gold ring on his finger, and another man, obviously poor, arrives in shabby clothes. If you pay special attention to the well-dressed man by saying, “Please sit here—it’s an excellent seat”, and say to the poor man, “You stand over there, please, or if you must sit, sit on the floor”, doesn’t that prove that you are making class-distinctions in your mind, and setting yourselves up to assess a man’s quality?—a very bad thing. For do notice, my brothers, that God chose poor men, whose only wealth was their faith, and made them heirs to the kingdom promised to those who love him (James 2:3,4 PHILLIPS).
I’m reading those words with fresh eyes this morning, asking God if I unknowingly discriminate, or judge those around me, by their outsides rather than their insides.
Holy Spirit, I ask for your conviction.Reveal any hidden remnants of discrimination in my heart, however subtle. Don’t let me show special favor because of someone’s wealth, social standing, gifts, abilities, or attractiveness. Give me Your eyes to see into their heart and love others as you love them. Thank You Lord, that You never discriminate.