This year continues on its bizarre trajectory. We continue to deal with pandemic fatigue; now we’ve added protest passion or anxiety.
Public discourse is spinning out of control over racial hatred, animosity toward police, and the politicization of almost everything. Fingers remain pointed and voices raised at one another in a seemingly never-ending downward spiral.
Most important changes involve the attitude of our heart. Faith in Jesus begins that process of change with me from the inside out.
The apostle James gives us a simple but powerful self-check regarding prejudice and partiality that applies today just as when it was written.
James, Jesus’ half brother, pulls no punches when he writes. “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” (James 2:1) The early church flourished in a society fractured by divides according to race, station in life (slave vs. free) and gender. Their acceptance of people regardless these divisions was remarkable, but far from perfect.
The word translated “favoritism” means “to lift up/regard highly the face of another.” For example, if a magazine publisher received a recent photo of you or me, it would not merit a second glance; a shot of a movie star or public figure would be another story.
James says we show partiality when we regard one person as more important than another based on some outward trait like wealth… or skin color.
He goes on to illustrate the point: “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 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 2:2-4)
Those who perform snap judgments on others have become self-appointed judges “with evil thoughts.” Evil occurs when we place ourselves in a godlike position, deciding who is worthy and who is not. Whether a person has brown or black skin or wears a blue or khaki uniform, he/ she is a person created in God’s image and ought to be treated as such.
James says much more in this passage, but he wraps up his point with some practical guidance: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom” (James 2:12).
Jesus makes all who believe in him right with God through his death for our sins, but we don’t now get to decide what’s right and wrong for ourselves. Jesus gives us strength to do what pleases him.
In the matter of how to treat those who look, speak, or dress differently than us, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (verse 8) is a good place to start.
Don Baumann is outreach pastor at Hilltop Community Church.