I recently read that the 20th century Indian activist, Mahatma Gandhi, as a young man once considered converting to Christianity, thinking it would be the catalyst to emancipate India from the caste system.
After reading the gospels and the teaching of Jesus, he thought applying Christian principles would solve the situation that deeply divided his people. So, one Sunday, he visited a nearby “Christian church.”
Confronting Gandhi at the front door, the usher refused to seat him. He coldly suggested that he leave and assemble with “his own people.”
Disillusioned, Gandhi silently walked away and later wrote “If Christians have caste differences also, I might as well remain a Hindu.”
This story reminds us of our text today in James 2 which begins with this sobering warning. “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.”
The first century Mediterranean world was divided socially, economically and racially. The New Testament documents the prejudice between Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans and Hellenists. Of course, within the Jewish system there were divisions of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essences. Now there were Christians, regarded by Rome as just another sect.
Of course, you also had the issue of the rich and poor. The Roman world didn’t know a middle class as we do in America today. You basically were either wealthy or improvised.
Christianity came to break down the barriers between ethnic groups, social classes, political allegiances, economic designations, and gender bias. Paul affirmed, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
Yet there was the temptation to favor the person of position, prestige, power and wealth. To judge on the basis of outward appearance. To illustrate his point, James envisions a rich man entering the assembly, arrayed with expensive jewelry and attired with stylish clothes. Then enters a poor man. Unkempt. Ragged clothing. And obvious ne’er-do-well.
When the rich man is offered a seat of prominence and the poor man is relegated to a lesser place, James says you are demonstrating a “respect of persons.” In other words, you are playing favorites. Showing partiality. Pandering to the rich.
William Barclay was right when he wrote, “The Church must be the one place where all distinctions are wiped out. There can be no distinctions of rank and prestige when men meet in the presence of the King of glory. There can be no distinctions of merit when men meet in the presence of the supreme holiness of God. In his presence all earthly distinctions are less than the dust and all earthly righteousness is as filthy rags. In the presence of God all men are one.”
Furthermore, such an attitude is a failure of faith and an affront to Jesus Christ, who never showed partiality based on occupation, social standing, or ethnic background. It reveals an ulterior motive. An unrighteous distinction. And an unfair, unholy judgment, which we are not lawfully allowed to make.
Could we ever be guilty of such partiality and prejudice?
When a guest visits our assembly for the first time, do we either consciously or subconsciously judge their worthiness to join us? Do we court with enthusiasm the good-looking family that is obviously financially successful, and ignore the older, shabbily dressed couple?
Do we look at one as an asset to us and the other as a liability? Do we see an increase in contribution from the family? But think the other may need help and decrease our funds? Do we see in the family a man who could serve as an elder or deacon, and a wife who could teach a Bible class? But in the other couple, people with little talent or skill who could improve our congregation?
The questions and comparisons could continue, but you get the point.
It’s natural within a congregation that we are drawn to people with similar interests, backgrounds, families, occupations and personalities. However, we must never allow those externals to become more important than our commonalty in Christ. Nor become cliquish and unkind to those who we think don’t fit in.
Jesus’ interaction with the immoral Samaritan woman, the skin-diseased leper, and blind beggar, as well as the Centurion solider, and wealthy Pharisees, reminds us that the gospel is for all. That we’re one in Christ.
When considering the issue of partiality, we would do well to analyze our attitude, examine our motive, and scrutinize our treatment of others. Are we guided by the royal law of love? Are we showing grace and extending mercy to others?
In short David Roper was right when he wrote, “To make superficial judgments concerning others, colored by our prejudices, is evil.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman
3 responses to “James 2:1-13”
Many years ago, my Christian daughter stepped away from the CoC. She was still walking a daily life as a Christian and was working through issues that concerned her…. During this period, the women of the local congregation where I attended was going to hold their annual “tea party’. I ask the hostess, who’s home it would be in, if I could invite my daughter and was told yes. My daughter and I were so excited to attend this together! But about a week before the event, the hostess heard about my daughter and as such, called me to tell me that “Since your daughter isn’t attending church she is NOT welcome in my home. And just so you know, the Elders agree with me”. My daughter and I was stunned!!! Obviously James 2, and all other passages relating to witnessing and encouraging those struggling, was totally ignored! My daughter said, “If this is how the your Church of Christ treat people, I will never darken it’s door again”, and she hasn’t. Praise God that He still works in her life! How many other souls have been driven away by the actions of so-called Christians… This conduct by a CoC member and Elders was arrogant, petty, shameful and downright sinful!
I am a big fan but this story of Mahatma Gandhi, I have never found verified
It is used often by the Church-bashing crowd if which I know you are not but many think Gandhi walked away somehow justified and thereby they are by going to “golf/\shore/game/hunting Church.
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